UK’s First Carrier Continues Long Deployment in South China Sea

RSS Vigour and RSS Formidable from the Republic of Singapore Navy and the UK Carrier Strike Group's HMS Queen Elizabeth exercising together on 9 October 2021. [Photo: Royal Navy]
HMS Queen Elizabeth (second carrier from the right) flanked by JS Ise, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, October 3, Philippine Sea (USN)

Published Oct 12, 2021 2:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy is leading a multi-national, long-distance carrier deployment in the contested waters of South Sea China - the first of its kind for the UK in decades

This week, the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was joined by the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen in Singapore as part of the UK Carrier Strike Group exercise in the South China Sea.

The military deployment is designed to uphold the international rules-based order through multilateralism based on shared values, such as freedom of navigation, democracy and human rights in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the UK. Tensions in the region have been rising, driven steadily upwards by China's sweeping territorial claims and controversial new maritime laws.

The new maritime law, which came into effect on September 1, demands that certain foreign vessels provide Chinese authorities with information before transiting Chinese-claimed waters, ncluding the vessel name, call sign, current position, cargo, port of call, and estimated arrival time.

Beijing claims sovereignty over the vast majority of the South China Sea, including areas located hundreds of miles beyond the 12-nm limit accepted under UNCLOS. The law is widely seen as a new way for China to assert control over contested maritime spaces.

“The Carrier Strike Group’s deployment has been designed to recognize the importance of the region globally. The group’s presence also demonstrates our support for the freedom of navigation passage through vital trading routes and our commitment to an international system of norms that benefits all countries,” said Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group.

The presence of HNLMS Evertsen marks the first deployment of a Royal Dutch Navy vessel to the region under the Indo-Pacific guidelines announced by the Netherlands in late 2020. As part of the guidelines, the Netherlands will actively seek to deepen ties with Indo-Pacific partners such as Singapore.

During the exercise, ships from the UK Carrier Strike Group and Singapore Navy conducted a maneuvering exercise in the international waters in the South China Sea.

Launching from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, F-35B Lightning jets also took to the skies with Singapore Air Force’s F-16 fighters on October 9, conducting simulated air combat training and formation flying.

The UK and Netherlands are among several nations, including the US and Australia, that have vowed to protect the right of navigation in the contested South China Sea after China enacted its new maritime law.

“The presence of the Dutch frigate Evertsen is a physical symbol of the Netherlands’ commitment to freedom of navigation and the Law of the Sea as a key determinant of trade, stability and shared interests in the Indo-Pacific region,” the Dutch government said in a statement.

 The Carrier Strike Group, which set off on its maiden operational deployment in May, has sailed through the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific - participating in a range of activities with partners and allies en route.

On October 3, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her escorts joined three other carrier strike groups in the adjacent Philippine Sea for a rare six-nation, four-carrier exercise. U.S. Carrier Strike Group 5 (USS Ronald Reagan), Carrier Strike Group 1 (USS Carl Vinson) and Japanese helicopter carrier JS Ise sailed alongside Queen Elizabeth for a series of flight and air-defense exercises. The frigates HMCS Winnipeg from the Royal Canadian Navy and HMNZS Te Kaha from the Royal New Zealand Navy also participated.