HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Carrier Strike Group will deploy to the Pacific later this year.
Prior to the deployment, it is understood that the carrier strike group will go through a work-up trial off the west Hebrides range sometime in early 2021.It is understood that the deployment will see the Carrier Strike Group sail in the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf and end up in the Pacific before returning home.
The Ministry of Defence say that the Carrier Strike Group “offers Britain choice and flexibility on the global stage, reassuring our friends and allies and presents a powerful deterrent to would-be adversaries.”
What makes up the UK Carrier Strike Group?
The Ministry of Defence say that the group includes NATO’s most sophisticated destroyers — the Royal Navy’s Type 45s HMS Diamond and HMS Defender and US Navy Arleigh Burke-class USS The Sullivans as well as frigates HMS Northumberland and HMS Kent from the UK. The Dutch Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen had originally been scheduled to join but issues with the vessels upgrade programme have meant this can’t happen.
“The task of protecting an aircraft carrier involves many ships, submarines and people. A Carrier Strike Group has an escort in the form of Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 destroyers, giving the strike group the ability to defend against above and below the sea threats. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary also play a vital role, keeping the strike group replenished with food and armament. The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will be deployed with up to two operational Lightning squadrons and 24 F-35Bs on board, with a maximum capacity allowing for up to 36.”
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said:
“The new UK Carrier Strike Group is the embodiment of British maritime power, and sits at the heart of a modernised and emboldened Royal Navy.”
Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, former commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, had previously 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.”
A squadron of US Marine Corps F-35B jets will join British jets on the carrier for the deployment.
How has China reacted?
This all comes despite China recently warning the UK against sending a carrier to the South China Sea, one of the potential destinations for the group on its voyage.
Then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Australian ministers in 2018 that HMS Queen Elizabeth would conduct freedom of navigation patrols in the disputed South China Sea region on her maiden deployment this year.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also said at the time:
“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.”
Johnson (now Prime Minister for anyone oblivious of that fact) said at the time 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.”