Despite China’s warnings, Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth and her escorts of submarines, destroyers, and attack cruisers have penetrated the contested West Philippine Sea. The warships comprise the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21, the UK’s largest and most powerful strike group.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its escorts are in the region to uphold the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the heavily contested waters. On October 4, the strike group reached the West Philippine Sea through the Bashi Channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines.
China had conveyed warnings to the UK prior to the arrival of the strike group, ordering it not to engage in “improper acts.” China accused the British of bringing back its colonial days, according to a statement issued by the state outlet Global Times.
“The People’s Liberation Army Navy is at a high state of combat readiness. China has been closely monitoring the progress of the Carrier Strike Group, which is currently sailing through the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) en route to Japan. It has also accused Britain of “still living in its colonial days,” the Global Times wrote.
The UK’s participation in the West Philippine Sea FONOPS has two purposes: the first is to portray British might and worldwide relevance through military operations; the second is to demonstrate British importance in the region. The second goal is to assist the US and its allies in restraining China’s regional growth.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is equipped with at least 18 F-35B stealth fighters (Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II), the world’s most advanced fifth-generation fighter. The F-35B stealth fighter costs a whopping P3.86 billion ($80 million) per plane.
HMS Defender and HMS Diamond are missile-guided destroyers, whereas HMS Kent and HMS Richmond are anti-submarine frigates, and HMS Tidespring and HMS Fort Victoria are logistics naval ships. The Astute-class nuclear submarine, the Royal Navy’s most modern nuclear-powered submarine, will accompany the carrier strike group.