Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also said that the presence of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the South China Sea would ‘stir up trouble’.

“At present, countries in the region are working together to safeguard and promote regional peace, stability and prosperity, yet we see some countries outside the region who insist on stirring up trouble while the situation is trending towards calm in the South China Sea. 

Whoever they are, under whatever pretexts and whatever they say, their precedents of interfering in other regions on high-sounding reasons but only leaving behind chaos and humanitarian disaster warrant sharp alert of regional countries and people.”

This comes as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Australian ministers that HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea region on her maiden deployment in 2021. Another British vessel is expected to sail to the region next year.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said:

“We spoke about the challenges including in the South China Sea and we had a long discussion about the Pacific and the opportunities for deeper British engagement in our part of the world.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said 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.”

Britain recently deployed a squadron of Typhoon aircraft to conduct exercises with South Korea and Japan amid heightened tension in the region. According to local media, the ministers agreed to identify opportunities to conduct joint activities when the two countries have ships or other assets in the area at the same time.

We reported recently that it had emerged that the UK plans to sail HMS Queen Elizabeth to the Pacific in 2021 amid concerns regarding freedom of navigation in the region.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to the Pacific on her maiden deployment in 2020 according to an ambassador. Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US said at a think-tank event in Washington:

“As we bring our two new aircraft carriers on-stream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific. And we absolutely share the objective of this US administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.”

Currently on sea trials, HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to be handed over to the Royal Navy by the end of the year. Her maiden deployment is scheduled for 2021.

The Queen Elizabeth class carriers are the largest and most powerful warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy, but what will they carry?

The term now used for the carriers embarked squadrons is ‘Carrier Air Wing’ (CVW), the previously used Tailored Air Group (TAG) has fallen out of official use. The vessels are capable of deploying a variety of aircraft in large numbers, up to a maximum in the upper fifties in surge conditions.

Captain Jerry Kyd, commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:

“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed.

We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”

In addition to the joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35Bs and their pilots, the air wing is expected to be composed of a ‘Maritime Force Protection’ package of nine anti-submarine Merlin HM2 and four or five Merlin for airborne early warning; alternatively a ‘Littoral Manoeuvre’ package could include a mix of RAF Chinooks, Army Apaches, Merlin HC4 and Wildcat HM2. We understand that vessel would still carry at least one F-35 squadron aboard in such circumstances to offer air defence as well as support to the helicopter assault activities.

The Crowsnest AEW&C aircraft will come from a number of the embarked Merlins (any of which can be fitted with the sensor package), the number again scaling with requirements.

Around the time the first carrier deploys operationally, the UK will have 42 F-35 aircraft, with 24 being front-line fighters and the remaining 18 will be used for training (at least 5 on the OCU), be in reserve or in maintenance.

Recently, the Ministry of Defence confirmed plans for the deployment of American F-35 aircraft alongside British jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The addition of US Marine Corps aircraft will see HMS Queen Elizabeth sail with 24 or so F-35Bs in addition to around 14 or so helicopters for her maiden deployment. It is understood that the US aircraft will augment British jets on coalition operations.

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Geoff Goldberg

Seems like an unnecessary and far flung deployment to me. We don’t have the surface assets to defend her adequately or to pose a serious threat, so all this stands to do is annoy the Chinese

Steven Jones

Correct, and if they break down i suspect the Chinese will simply leave them to float around aimlessly until the Aussies can send some assests to recover them to maximize our embarrassment.


So whats the difference when the USN sent a “surface action group” of 2 destroyers around the South China Sea recently?
Freedom of navigation is just that. The ability to go where you want when you want.

The Chinese will spout indignation so they don’t lose face and invite the carrier to come alongside in HK for a visit!


The US might be able to afford what exactly?

Geoff Goldberg

The US is over 20x more in debt than we are. Either way, you’re right, we need to live within our means. One might suggest the exorbitant £150bn budget the NHS receives and the scandalous £13bn budget of Foreign Aid might be a tad over-zealous

David Steeper

Spot on. What exactly is the British national interest in military confrontation with China. Mybe it’s what Blair called. ‘A blood sacrifice’ The problem is that it won’t be the politicians blood being sacrificed.


Sorry, did I dream about the Chinese vessels that sailed through the Channel recently to do naval exercises with the Russians in the Baltic? Not quite clear how that is Chinese area of interest. Utter hypocrisy on so many fronts here and a matter of do as we say over do as we do. The Chinese are getting very good at this 2 faced engagement and we ignore it at our ultimate cost.


Agree, some of the above comments are unbelievably nieve. The Chinese intent is clear, and that is to become the principal naval power in the Far East. Now that’s okay in itself, yet history tells us power breeds the abuse of power. Just as Britain and France exercised their powers in the18th, 19th, and 20 century. Unless the western navies show presents, we could easily find international trade routes compromised.

David Steeper

Spain with French support is pushing over Gibraltar. Argentina is still campaigning at UN over Falklands. The Russian Navy is back in the N. Atlantic, North and Irish seas. Were getting more involved in the Gulf against Iran and now the S. China sea. I don’t think it’s naive to ask what the hell we think we’re doing.


@ Daid Steeper “Spain with French support is pushing over Gibraltar. Argentina is still campaigning at UN over Falklands. The Russian Navy is back in the N. Atlantic, North and Irish seas. Were getting more involved in the Gulf against Iran and now the S. China sea. I don’t think it’s naive to ask what the hell we think we’re doing.” Why is any of that relevant? Are you suggesting France and Spain are touting war over Gibraltar? Has Argentina suddenly acquired the military capability to do, well anything really? Nobody cares about the Russian surface fleet and the submarines… Read more »

David Stephen

A freedom of navigation mission is hardly going to start a war.


The UK is perfectly entitled to sail through international waters wherever they may be across the globe. If China gets upsets about a legal activity being performed in their back yard, that’s their problem.

If you don’t think a T45 destroyer and an Astute submarine is adequate in terms of protective capability, I wonder in which world you live…

Dave Branney

I welcome the news the Queen Elizabeth is going to Australia and probably New Zealand. Apart from “showing the flag” it will show that we are still maintaining our morale obligation and commitment to these two countries. We owe Australia, New Zealand and the other Pacific countries when they came to defend our Island during the First and Second World Wars, regardless of monetary cost.

What would also be fantastic is that if we could lease Typhoon to both Oz and NZ, perhaps even Canada. Which would help pay for the aero and engine upgrades.


It would seem the only reason we are sailing through the South China Sea is to appease the American’s. It was probably a condition of having USMC F35Bs on-board when she sails. Totally agree that we should be maintaining better ties with Australia and NZ.


Perhaps it can be said that we too have a foreign policy (stop laughing), which includes demonstrating our loyalty to a rules-based way of conducting international trade.


We gave up any moral obligations in 1941 when we lose Singapore, that is why Australia went with America ever after.


Actually they went with America ‘ever after’ as the accident of having to have America send forces to protect it against Japanese invasion while it could over time extract most of its own forces from the Middle East to come back to help do so. This was one part of Hitler’s ‘genius’ logic in encouraging Japan to enter the war that eventually backfired. Thereafter the ‘union’ between them was a geographical and political fact as Britain after the war had little choice but to withdraw east of Suez to rebuild a stricken economy so it could spend the next 50… Read more »


I think you’re overlooking the fact that UK has military bases in both Singapore and Brunei and therefore has interests and obligations in this region – aside from the fact that enforcing open trade routes is a key responsibility to undertake.

Oscar Zulu

Any notions about “leasing” Typhoon to Australia are delusional. Typhoon would be a step backwards for Australia as it still lacks a modern AESA radar comparable to that fitted to the RAAF’s 24 FA18F Super Hornets and all of the capability that Gen 4.5 brings. The Super Hornets (and the 72 classic Hornets for that matter) were born as multirole (aka swingrole) fighters whereas the Typhoon has required multiple evolutions and upgrades to attain this capability. Despite the Eurofighter’s much vaunted transonic acceleration, it has used the Super Hornet as a benchmark for dogfighting agility with upgrades playing catch up.… Read more »


You are correct in stating Australia’s future lies with the F-35 and would never consider the Typhoon in that respect. I wouldn’t however espouse the nonsense about F-18 capabilities against Typhoons in the way you have done. Red flag exercises never end well for the Growlers and “canon fodder” is a term used regularly by RAF pilots to reflect such encounters.


Indeed there are some very delusional words spoken about these matters that usually bare no real relation to the truth. Equally the Muti role capability that the Typhoon is undertaking now is entirely due to the fact that it is only now that the RAF and other users need it to replace the specifically designed for the job Tornado, not that the aircraft was ever any less ‘designed for the job’ than the F18.
As you say though its not relevant to Australia’s future needs the F18 is capable enough while the F35 is introduced on mass.

Necessary Evil

If you listen to fighter pilots themselves, the kind of agility you are talking about isn´t very useful in multiple-aircraft engagements, where the Typhoon´s extra thrust would give it a significant advantage over the Hornet, Super or otherwise. I agree about the AESA though, and that Australia wouldn´t want to lease any, especially when it could use that money to buy more f-35s and Growlers (the Hornet variant that will stay relevant the longest).


Leasing Typhoon to Canada would make sense. It would be a good choice for their QRA requirements.

Fat Dave

A shame the UK has wasted so much time and money on 2 antique aircraft carriers, especially as they will only be able operate with land based air in support. Not helped by the self licking lollipop of having to keep a proportion of F-35s to defend the carrier….

But too late now, so the UK has to make this concept work, at least until the USMC buy both of them. A deployment to the China Sea is the obvious way to test and integrate with allies.

Andy Tadd

And which land based air support is that? Is it the shipbourn F35s of the FAA or the RAF that will be aboard for CAS if required? Both carriers are self sufficient in providing their own air cover and CAS of ground troops.


“antique” – you might want to check the meaning of this word and how this validation affects the statement you have made. How a platform with the state of the art propulsion system, radar and automation facilities can be considered “antique” is surely only in the minds of the daft.


Taken those words from my own mouth there, but you really can’t take his contradictory words, or indeed knowledge, seriously when he uses that particular word and then ridiculously follows it by claiming that they will be sold to the USMC as if they would somehow be in the business of running their own, let alone buying other peoples useless antiques.

P tattersall

I would be amazed if any Chinese ships actually work proper they can’t even make a decent wheel barrow . its all crap what they produce and it will be the same for years to come .. They are best at building crap to fill pounds shops up .. Chinese military never been tested for years

P tattersall

What we do know for fact over the last 40 years every time a NATO aircraft fires at a Russian built aircraft the Russian built plane get blown up ..And it will be the same with Chinese crap .. You only have to look in the shops western technology is light years in front the Chinese make cheap nasty copies years later .. Ppl talk up absolutely unproven Chinese military hardware .. Like every thing else China have not got a clue how to fight a modern war they have not been involved in any ..


I’m usually sceptical about deployments like this but what China is doing in the South China Sea is wrong, they are basing their claim on a few old maps (which every other country with a claim has) they want the entire SCS for themselves. More trade goes through the SCS than panama and suez combined. If they militarise it they will have the capability to stop whatever ships they want. Like a few other posters have said their hardware is untested, and they have no experience. I genuinely think that once the two carriers are operational we could beat them… Read more »


Hi Kieran. I would ordinarily agree with you but after 2018 when Harpoon is scraped what is the RN going to sink any Chinese ship with, aside from the handful of attack boats we have? This decision (Harpoon) is scandalous and completely irresponsible!


Harpoon is redundant as a capability. The technology is such that it is easily countered by other measures and therefore a waste of space.

I agree on the scandalous lack of replacement however. There seems to be a variety of new options available now and the RN don’t appear to be looking into any of them – expect the long lead time Perseus missile.


You are correct Matt but if I was on a Type 23, I would feel more confident with Harpoon than without even if it is showing it’s age. You are also right in that there ARE options – Norwegian NSM is already in service and could be easily acquired; the US LRASM is also not too far off. I think we all agree that waiting for Perseus in 2030 – maybe! – is simply not acceptable.


Hi David, one word…Spearfish, a french sub sunk a US Carrier and it’s escort in a training exercise, if you don’t track it and don’t see it coming it’s lights out. Plus we have world leading sonar technology to track their subs. Perhaps it’s just a bit of wishful thinking having looked at their numbers again but I do know at the very least they would be given a bloody nose, you have to remember China has never supported any operation away from her own backyard, on neutral ground I think we would better support a fleet than the Chinese,… Read more »


Hi Kieran again. You are right in that Sonar 2087 is world class and we have a vast amount of sub hunting experience to counter theirs. Like so many of us on this forum, I lament the shear lack of hull numbers we have vs the taskings assigned. The RN does a fabulous job with what they have but our politicians – labour and conservative alike – have raided the defence kitty far too much and it is really telling now – Harpoon with no replacement a case in point.


Yeah I agree it’s a national disgrace, the type 31 idea of a small multi role frigate is a step in the right direction but there has to be a decent order of them for capability and low cost. In regards to the Harpoon I think the replacement is already there in Perseus, it’s designed to fit in the bay of an F 35 and M41 VLS. I think because the Type 23 is about to be replaced the government have thought ‘well the type 26’s will have the M41 VLS so we can just wait for them with LRASM… Read more »


The other way would be for a T45 to launch an aster missile and take out the radar of a Chinese ship – I think this was already being looked into as a capability? This would leave the ship blind and useless.

The discussion on anti-ship missiles is an interesting one. What would the political repercussions be from sinking a ship and killing 100+ sailors in this day and age? Whilst this capability needs to be there, I suspect maiming is a more likely outcome to be pursued


Hi Matt, I suppose it is a “capability” but not a very good one in naval warfare, how long do you think it would take the Chinese to fit a replacement radar to a ship in a wartime situation, probably a day. And seen as the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and anyone else currently involved in the middle east are bombing and killing 100+ civilians most weeks sometimes days, with not a whole lot of political repercussions then a warship getting sunk with sailors who fighting, albeit with different weapons but those sailors know what kind of ship they are… Read more »


As a trading nation that uses ships for the majority of import/exports, it is vitally important for the UK that the freedom of movement in international waters be maintained. The Chinese are spending billions in attempt to do exactly the opposite. They are flooding the South China sea with their military hardware in order to control & impede international traffic. What they are doing is totally illegal as decided by the world court and should be challenged and defeated wherever possible. Having said that, 99% of the reason for recent comments about using the Royal Navy to help defend Australia,… Read more »


You can exercise freedom of navigation rights with a River OPV. Surely one of the roles of a patrol ship is to act as a trigger. Using an entire carrier task force is for UK internal public consumption to bolster our post Brexit global but bruised ego.


What’s wrong with us sailing through the South China sea? Did the Chinese not sail some ships through the English channel a couple of weeks ago, seems like a clear case of double standards from the Chinese if they kick up a stink about it.


Indeed it seems many only see one side of the equation which no doubt the Chinese are much encouraged by.


I think any ship not sailing a Chinese flag in this region would be unwelcome to them. Arrogance beyond belief in this modern world to unilaterally claim entire seas as sovereign territory in this way.

Necessary Evil

The US can do this type of thing because they have another 10 carriers if China decides to attack the sitting duck, whereas we do not. As usual we are just there to give legitimacy to America´s policies (I´m not saying that it is wrong to do that in this case, but that is what we are there for). Especially when our carriers would be much easier targets than the American ones, assuming they are going to sail separately with their own escorts – the American´s have SM-3, SM-6 and E-2D, we have Crownest). I think the only real military… Read more »

P tattersall

We would sink the untested Chinese crap with f35 .. I think these to carriers would destroy the Chinese with ease ..Apache sub’s F35 …


The real game-changer here will be the US. If HMS QE is in the SCS with a combined RN/USMC air wing which it looks like she will, then I have no doubt the US will provide sufficient escorts as needed to supplement our lack thereof (that’s a shame in and of itself but is a whole different matter). The point being, with US aircraft on QE and US escorts with her, the Chinese will bark but stay in their kennel.

Stephen Elliott

Well said, sir. However, the USN would be with HMS Queen Elizabeth on any cruise through that region regardless. The RN’s ability to clear the ocean of any subsurface bad actors ranks as one of the best, if not the best in the world. In regard to subsurface combatants, the commanders of RN submarines who have graduated from the SMCC-Perisher course are absolutely brilliant and masters of their craft. Any surface ships the RN might be lacking for this part of their deployment, the US would no doubt kindly supply. In addition, depending on the mission most USN Carrier Strike… Read more »


That “special relationship” you allude to is only special as long as the UK is useful to the US. The UK likes it as much as they get to cozy up to a Superpower. They don’t like it as much as they’re playing second fiddle. I can understand that, but that’s how the game is played. There are great rifts between both countries and let’s not forget the animosity and bitterness that British people have to Americans. I’ve run into that many, many, many times. Too much to count. In the end it benefits both countries to be allies for… Read more »


British history with China is not exactly covered in glory. The Chinese have long memories of their humiliation in the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion more than a century ago. This entire adventure may end badly for the Royal Navy, because it will stir up Chinese nationalism in their sphere of interest. British colonialism died with the handover of HongKong to China more than 20 years ago.

John Hampson

I was on an oil rig, 60 to 70 miles off the Malaysia coast in 2013 and 2014.When we moved locations we were shadowed by a Chinese Coastguard corvette and a PLAN destroyer. On arrival, the Chinese would inform us that we were in Chinese waters, without permission and should depart. During this time a Chinese amphibious task force held exercises at James Shoal. The Commander told his force to be prepared to fight to defend China’s territory. (Text of speech reported on Beijing TV.) The shoal is 50 miles off the Malaysian coast. Hainan Island, the nearest Chinese coast… Read more »


I agree with mat on the presence of queen Elizabeth in China seas ,after all they visited our shores recently,and I thought we had good relations with China,so why the fuss ! Tony.


Hi Tony. With respect, I would have you read John’s synopsis above. I agree with him wholeheartedly. China is not our friend and they know the UK, the UN and the West in general – aside from the US – is very weak and will not put up much fight against their expansionist policies in the SCS. As far as the US is concerned, like him or hate him, Trump is investing again in the US Armed Forces – especially their Navy – and is prepared it seems to stand up to bullies on the world stage. We on the… Read more »


Who cares what they say? The south China Sea is international waters despite the wet dreams of the Chinese goverment. They do anything its a declaration of war through and through, and it demonstrates that were not their poodles. If anything we need to make such a statement to the US as well. Bar the Falkland war, I consider Wilson telling the US where they can stuff it when they tried to drag us into the Vietnam war one of the proudest moments of this country.


So these people challenge and threaten us whilst we hand out huge contracts to then to build our future nuclear power stations. For gods sake get real and tell them that if this continues the contracts for this and other huge contracts will be stopped. No question.