UK says its aircraft carrier strike group is ready to deploy in SCS. China's already watching.
The Royal Navy announced on Monday that the UK's Carrier Strike Group, centered on Britain's largest ever warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, had achieved initial operating capability.
The designation means the 65,000-ton carrier, its air assets including F-35 stealth fighter jets and helicopters, as well as its escorting destroyers, frigates, submarines and supply ships, are ready to deploy within five days of receiving orders to do so.
Qualified pilots and ground crews are on notice.
"This is a hugely significant milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and the whole country. This achievement is a testament to the determination of our service personnel and industry workforce who have delivered this first-rate military capability, a capability held by only a handful of nations," UK Defense Minister Jeremy Quin said in a statement.
The commander of carrier strike group, Commodore Steve Moorehouse, touted his unit's readiness in a Twitter post.
"In practical terms, my Strike Group is now at Very High Readiness, meaning we are at 5 days' notice to deploy, if required, in response to global events & in defence of British interests," Moorehouse tweeted.
In a followup tweet, he hinted at what is to come. Carrier strike group staff are planning for the Queen Elizabeth's first operational deployment, which Moorhouse said would encompass the Royal Navy's largest peacetime task group in 25 years and be proof of Britain's commitment to maintaining worldwide security "a visible demonstration of Global Britain," Moorhouse called it.
Specific dates for the first deployment have yet to be announced.
a report published late last year from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Britain is a major player, calling the rise of the Chinese military a threat to the alliance.
"China has an increasingly global strategic agenda, supported by its economic and military heft. It has proven its willingness to use force against its neighbors, as well as economic coercion and intimidatory diplomacy well beyond the Indo-Pacific region," the NATO report said.
"China is increasingly likely to project military power globally, including potentially in the Euro-Atlantic area."
Yet a British presence in the South China Sea is not without precedent. In 2018, the Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion steamed closed to the Chinese-claimed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in what Beijing called a "provocative action."
"Protected by a ring of advanced destroyers, frigates, helicopters and submarines, and equipped with fifth-generation fighters, HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing; and with our NATO allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances," he said in a statement last fall.
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