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The British Are Coming

U.K. to send largest contingent of warships to the South China Sea.
IMAGE GREGG MACREADY/U.K. MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
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For the first time since the Falklands War of 1982, the United Kingdom is sending its largest contingent of warships to waters thousands of miles away from its own. The U.K.’s largest carrier strike group is expected to depart from British waters as early as May 18 and arrive in the South China Sea the following month. The Ministry of Defence described the deployment as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the U.K. in a generation.”

According to the U.K. government, the massive strike group composed of carriers, destroyers, submarines, cruisers, and a number of aircraft from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will be “a truly global deployment, from the North Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.”

More: China Backs Away as Philippines and U.S. Send Impressive Fleet to West Philippine Sea

First Mission for the HMS Queen Elizabeth

The Pacific mission will be the first operational deployment of the U.K.’s brand-new aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is the Royal Navy’s largest and most powerful warship ever built. It cost the kingdom a whopping P213 billion (£3.2 billion) to build. 

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

Photo by Keith Ryall.
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F-35B Stealth Fighter

Photo by Donald R. Allen | U.S. Air Force (Public Domain). 

The impressive contingent also includes missile-guided destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, and logistical naval ships HMS Tidespring and HMS Fort Victoria. The carrier strike group will be escorted by an  Astute-class nuclear submarine, the most advanced nuclear-powered submarine in service with the Royal Navy. 

More: China's International Reputation Takes a Beating as E.U. Stands Up for the Philippines

A Mustering of Force Among World Powers

The Queen’s forces from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will be joining a constellation of some of the world’s nuclear powers who are also sailing to the South China Sea for military exercises: the U.S., France, and Canada. Japan will also take part in the exercises with the U.K. 

Meanwhile, the warships from the Royal Navy will also take advantage of the mission to conduct exercises with the members of the Five Powers Defense Agreements—Australia, U.K., Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore. 

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The deployment will last 28 weeks and will cover visits to 40 countries. 

U.K. Projecting Its Influence and Power

On April 28, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace released a press statement about why the U.K. is deploying to the Pacific the largest contingent of warships it has ever sent anywhere. 

“When our carrier strike group sets sail next month, it will be flying the flag for Global Britain— projecting our influence, signaling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.

“The entire nation can be proud of the dedicated men and women who for more than six months will demonstrate to the world that the UK is not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st century,” said Wallace.

More: Why Is the Philippines Suddenly Standing Up to China?

In similar tones, Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the Royal Navy’s commander of the carrier strike group, also released a statement underscoring the U.K.’s role in addressing global security. 

“As our nation redefines its place in the world post-Brexit, it is the natural embodiment of the government’s ‘Global Britain’ agenda,” he said. “And against a backdrop of growing instability and competition, it reflects the United Kingdom’s continued commitment to global security.”

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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