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Everything We Know About the U.K.'s Most Powerful Ship Sailing to the Philippine Sea

The P213 billion HMS Queen Elizabeth is a formidable sight on any horizon.
IMAGE DAVID PETER ROBINSON/SHUTTERSTOCK
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The British are coming, and they’re sending the largest and most powerful ship they ever built in history. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is the Royal Navy’s fleet flagship. The brand-new aircraft carrier cost the kingdom a whopping P213 billion (£3.2 billion) to build.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is known as an “aircraft supercarrier” because of its sheer size and weight displacement of 65,000 tonnes. It is not a nuclear-powered carrier. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce Marine 36 MW MT30 gas turbine alternators and four 10 MW diesel engines, giving it a top speed of 59 kilometers per hour and a range of 10,000 nautical miles. 

As it sails through the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, the HMS Queen Elizabeth will carry at least 18 F-35B stealth fighters (Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II), a fifth-generation fighter considered the most advanced in the world. The price tag for each F-35B stealth fighter is a staggering P3.86 billion ($80 million).

HMS Queen Elizabeth’s First Mission 

Photo by KEITH RYALL.
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Although the HMS Queen Elizabeth was launched in 2014, its voyage to waters surrounding the Philippines is its first operational deployment. Prior to its 2021 mission, it had been deployed for sea and flight trials many times. 

It is the lead ship of the U.K.’s largest carrier strike group. Apart from the 18 Royal Air Force stealth fighters on deck, it will also be escorted by destroyers, cruisers, and submarines from the Royal Navy. 

This is the first time since the Falklands War of 1982 that the U.K. is sending a massive carrier strike group so far from its own waters. 

The mission will involve goodwill visits to over 40 countries and include naval exercises in the South China Sea with Canada, France, the U.S., Japan, and Australia. 

Armaments on the HMS Queen Elizabeth

The HMS Queen Elizabeth may look defenseless, but it carries some of the most powerful canons used in naval warfare. It has three Phalanx CIWS and six 30mm miniguns. 

The Phalanx, aka ‘R2-D2’

Photo by Paraxade | Wikimedia Commons.
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The Phalanx system is specifically designed to shoot incoming torpedoes, missiles, helicopters, and watercraft. It can sink small ships and boats. The Phalanx canons are also used by the U.S. Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Because of its radar dome that is shaped like a barrel, the Phalanx was nicknamed “R2-D2” after the famous droid from Star Wars.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth also has six 30mm miniguns that can fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute. It is used to deliver a barrage of bullets on enemy craft. 

South China Sea Missions

After passing through the Philippine Sea in May, the U.K. Carrier Strike Group 21 will dock at the British naval facility in Singapore, before conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in disputed waters in the South China Sea. 

While in the region, the strike group will hold exercises with the members of the Five Powers Defence (Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, U.K.). 

It will leave the South China Sea but will remain in the Asia Pacific region as it sails to the waters north of the Philippine Sea to conduct exercises with Japan, South Korea, and the U.S.

The deployment of the U.K.’s best naval assets to the South China Sea is intended to project British influence and power and underscore the U.K.’s role in maintaining global security. 

Against a backdrop of growing instability and competition, it reflects the United Kingdom’s continued commitment to global security,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the Royal Navy’s commander of the carrier strike group. 

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“As our nation redefines its place in the world post-Brexit, it is the natural embodiment of the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda.”

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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