HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Carrier Strike Group will sail through the South China Sea despite Chinese warnings, it has been confirmed.

China claims almost all of the 1.3 million-square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory, and it has denounced the presence of foreign warships there as the root of tensions in the region.

Boris Johnson (now Prime Minister and then Foreign Secretary) said in 2018 in response to concerns raised regarding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea:

“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”

The Carrier Strike Group

Chinese defence spokesman Tan Kefei was quoted in the South China Morning Posas saying:

“The Chinese side believes that the South China Sea should not become a sea of great power rivalry dominated by weapons and warships. The real source of militarisation in the South China Sea comes from countries outside this region sending their warships thousands of kilometres from home to flex muscles. The Chinese military will take necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interest as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

What happened last time a British vessel sailed through the South China Sea?

HMS Albion has previously sailed through the South China Sea.

In 2018, assault ship HMS Albion was challenged by a Chinese frigate and two helicopters during freedom of navigation exercise in the South China Sea. Local media report that both sides remained calm during the encounter and the Royal Navy assault ship continued on course despite protests from China.

The confirmation

The knowledge that the vessel will sail through the South China Sea has been somewhat of an open scret for a while now but the following is confirmation of that fact.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in Parliament:

“Over the coming 28 weeks, from May to December 2021, we will see our carrier strike group travel over 26,000 nautical miles from the Mediterranean to the Red sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian sea and from the Indian ocean to the Philippine sea. Besides the full integration of units from the UK, US and the Netherlands, the carrier strike group will operate with air and maritime forces from a wide number of international partners including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman and the Republic of Korea.

Meanwhile, China is increasingly assertive, building the world’s largest maritime surface and sub-surface fleets. However, we are not going to go to the other side of the world to be provocative. We will sail through the South China Sea. We will be confident, but not confrontational. More often than not, the carrier group will be in the eastern Mediterranean or the Atlantic, carrying out our duties in support of NATO. As part of this deployment, our strike group will be in the middle east, conducting bilateral exercises and engagement with our long-standing defence and security partners, confirming our commitment to a lasting stability.”

He added:

“Our carrier strike group gives us something different. HMS Queen Elizabeth is a floating piece of sovereign territory that can sail over 70% of the world’s surface. It is probably the most guarded UK airfield to be found. It gives the Government unprecedented options to act independently against hostile forces on land or at sea for months without having to access bases ashore. It is a warship, a mothership, a surveillance reconnaissance ship, a convener of allies and partners, and a great projector of Britain’s soft and hard power.

The deployment will see the units of the strike group visiting more than 40 countries and undertaking more than 70 engagements, visits, air exercises and operations. Critically, these events will provide excellent opportunities for the UK to develop new and existing trade and political links, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.”

You can read his full statement by clicking here.

The Carrier Strike Group

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailing with her Carrier Strike Group.

The group will include…

  • HMS Queen Elizabeth
  • HMS Diamond
  • HMS Defender
  • HMS Kent
  • HMS Richmond
  • An Astute class submarine
  • RFA Tidespring
  • RFA Fort Victoria
  • USS The Sullivans
  • HNLMS Evertsen

In addition to

  • 815 Naval Air Squadron
  • 845 Naval Air Squadron
  • 820 Naval Air Squadron
  • 617 Squadron
  • VMFA-211

Plus 42 Commando, Royal Marines.

The Carrier Strike Group.

What’s happening with the Carrier Strike Group?

The Royal Navy say that the UK’s Carrier Strike Group will visit more than one fifth of the world’s nations when it sails next month. Led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, the task group will visit 40 nations including India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore in a deployment covering 26,000 nautical miles.

“While in the Pacific, ships from the Carrier Strike Group will mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Agreement between Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK by taking part in Exercise Bersama Lima.

Joining HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden deployment are destroyers HMS Diamond and Defender; frigates HMS Richmond and Kent; an Astute-class submarine in support below the waves; and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring. More than 30 aircraft will also embark across the task group including F-35 jets from 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, and the US Marine Corps’ VMFA-211; Wildcat helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron and Merlin helicopters from 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons.

Royal Marines from 42 Commando will also deploy with the carrier. Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen and American Arleigh Burke destroyer USS The Sullivans are also part of the strike group.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea with a mix of British and American jets.

The group will also join up and take part in exercises with French carrier FS Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean as well as navies and aircraft from allies such as the US, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan and the UAE.

You can read more about the specific of the deployment by clicking here.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Mac (@guest_556177)
3 years ago

Yeah…but Boris chickened out of sending QE through the Taiwan straights, and make no mistake it would have been him to make that decision, given the utterly spineless recent report on the threat China poses in the 21st Century.

Ross (@guest_556197)
3 years ago
Reply to  Mac

I don’t think anyone has sailed down the Taiwanese straight for 14 years or so, I think the last one was the US in 2007? Not sure on this, I would not really have expected the RN to sail the Taiwanese straight.

Mac (@guest_557239)
3 years ago
Reply to  Ross

The French sailed through last year with the CDG strike group…

geoff (@guest_556206)
3 years ago

The Russiand do and the Chinese would be entitled to send Naval forces through the English channel which is a much narrower stretch of sea than any in the vicinity of China. Perhaps the Task Force should should pop in to Hong Kong for a couple of days to cement Sino-British relationships?

james (@guest_556245)
3 years ago
Reply to  geoff

Chinese warships have transited the Channel a couple of times in the past few years on their way to visiting or joining Russian assets. They were of course escorted by the RN.

Alex (@guest_556248)
3 years ago

As someone who has worked overseas for many years on Business development and seen how the UK,s place in the world has shrunk, this is good news, Gov needs to spend more on the three priorities that matter Defence 1st, NHS second and International Business development next. Whilst the Fleet are in Asia a visit to the Philippines would be a good idea, support and a thankyou for all the Nurses that are working through the Pandemic miles away from their Families.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins (@guest_556323)
3 years ago

Were we not supposed to be getting this for the carriers, or am I missing something here?? A  marinised version, or something else?

Spirit AeroSystems names team for UK Mosquito loyal wingman effort

Last edited 3 years ago by Nigel Collins
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_556357)
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

Project Vixen.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins (@guest_556358)
3 years ago

Many thanks, I was missing something!

I wonder how they came up with that name lol

Last edited 3 years ago by Nigel Collins
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_556378)
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

I just hope something comes to fruition and we don’t get another decade of “informing decisions” like this programme.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins (@guest_556385)
3 years ago

Dither and delay is all part of the UK’s decision-making process sadly, by the time we finish the design phase we are already years behind! As for build times and in-service dates… We simply cannot continue in this vein if we intend to keep up with the competition. Taranis is a classic example of this, It first flew on 10 August 2013, excelled in every area it was designed for including autonomous flight, then shelved as a demonstrator for future technologies? Now we’re looking at Vixen, late 20’s when we could have been at the forefront of UCAV’s and taking… Read more »

Leonidas (@guest_556332)
3 years ago

Only one RN SSN is available to accompany the battle group??? I hope there are plans for USN SSNs and RAN SSGs to join the battle group, too.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_556354)
3 years ago
Reply to  Leonidas

Hi Leonidas,
I totally agree, two Astutes would be better. Front and back or right and left sides of fleet. But it may be seen as provocative. I hope all the T45 and T23s are fully kitted out including all their ASMs.

Robert Arvanitis
Robert Arvanitis (@guest_556840)
3 years ago

We must call it the “South Asia Sea.” It doesn’t belong to communist China.
Same with East Asia Sea. Likewise does not belong to communist China.
Orthography and nomenclature matter!

Jes (@guest_556946)
3 years ago

The RN had its prescience in SCS since the early times of the East India Trade, covering Calcutta,Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and also Hong Kong up north closer to CommieChina. The RN withdrew from SEA but only with visits to the SEA region for defence exercises like the Berlima exercises in SEA. During the RN period in SEA and South China Sea, Commie China warships were unheard of. While the RN and USN presence were dominating the SCS.The USN played a bigger role in SEA and SCS when the RN decided to withdraw in 1974. So one wonders how did the… Read more »

Last edited 3 years ago by Jes
Jes (@guest_556949)
3 years ago

By all good sense that vast sea area ought to be renamed as the ASEAN SEA rather than the South China Sea. As most of ASEAN countries being in close proximity to that sea.