U.K. Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth Now on the Edge of the South China Sea

July 25, 2021 8:08 PM
Royal Malaysian Navy Frigate KD Lekiu (FFG30) sailing with Royal Navy Carrier Queen Elizabeth (RO8) and Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805) during the Passex exercise in the Malacca Strait on July 25, 2021. Malaysian Royal Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR — The Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group is making its way into the South China Sea with some ships already there ahead of carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). The strike group has partially disaggregated into different elements following the conclusion of Exercise Konkan with the Indian Navy, held from 21 to 22 July in the Bay of Bengal.

The U.K. Carrier Strike Group CSG 21 includes Type 23 anti-submarine frigates HMS Richmond (F239) and HMS Kent (F78); Type 45 guided-missile destroyer HMS Defender (D36); Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and RFA Tidespring (A136) ; U.S. destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68); Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805); and the nuclear attack boat HMS Artful (S121). U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 is embarked with the air group along with the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron “The Dambusters.”.

As of Sunday morning, automatic identification system data show Defender docked at Muara Naval Base, Brunei, while the Tidespring, having left Singapore, is currently headed out to the South China Sea. Both ships passed Singapore on the 24th local time with Tidespring docking that day in Singapore to replenish supplies while Defender headed to Brunei.

Meanwhile Richmond conducted a PASSEX exercise on the 24th in the Andaman Sea with the Royal Thai Navy Frigate HTMS Kraburi (457). Separately Queen Elizabeth and its remaining surface escorts conducted a PASSEX Exercise on the 25th local time in the Malacca Strait with the Royal Malaysian Navy’s two Lekiu class frigates, KD Lekiu (FFG30) and KD Jebat (FFG29), both ships having been built in the UK by Yarrow Shipbuilders (now BAE Systems Maritime – Naval Ships). AIS data shows Fort Victoria travelling down the Malacca Straits in a distance ahead of the group comprising of Kent, The Sullivans and Evertsen with Queen Elizabeth closely behind the three escorts. At the time of writing, the ships are at the lower end of the Malacca Strait, near the city of Malacca.

Meanwhile HMS Artful was sighted midday local time on the 25th travelling through the Singapore Strait and heading to the South China Sea

Queen Elizabeth is expected to dock in Singapore as it has been mentioned that Singapore is one of its stops. U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Singapore in the same period, Austin delivering the 40th International Institute of Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture on the evening of the 27th though so far there is no indication as to whether Austin will conduct any engagement with CSG21 during his visit to Singapore.

So far there has not been any statement from China in regard to the presence of CSG21 though CSG21’s ships have yet to conduct any exercises in the South China Sea itself or travelled close to China’s positions in the South China Sea which normally prompts statements from China.

The U.K. elements of CSG21 are expected in October, during their return voyage, to take part in the Five Power Defence Arrangements’ Bersama Gold exercise, normally known as Bersama Lima, the annual sea and air exercise was renamed for this year to mark the golden anniversary of the FPDA, which comprises of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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