HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Carrier Strike Group will sail through the South China Sea despite Chinese warnings, it has been confirmed.
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 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?
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 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.”
“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
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
Plus 42 Commando, Royal Marines.
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.”
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.