New Alliances, New Trade Deals, And The Biggest Carrier Strike Group Deployment In Decades
HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Global Britain continues to make a splash around the World.
In the build-up to the EU Referendum and in the ensuing years of the Remainer and EU rear-guard action to overturn democracy, Brexiteers were regularly told they were ‘Little Englanders’. The United Kingdom was too small to survive on its own without being part of the EU empire, Remainers said.
Brexiteers were dismissed when they pointed out that the UK is the fifth-largest economy in the World, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power, a member of the G7, a founder member of the World Trade Organisation, and that Her Majesty the Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth of 54 nations spanning the globe
In contrast to the more insular, EU-centric Remainers, Brexiteers saw the opportunities for a revitalised United Kingdom once again to play a significant role on the global stage to help to maintain the international rules-based order. In this article, I look at just one aspect of this: the first deployment in many years of a UK-led Carrier Strike Group to the other side of the world.
In a statement released by the Government on Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, said
“The UK is committed to strengthening our ties across the Indo-Pacific and the deployment of the UK Carrier Strike Group demonstrates our commitment to the region, and our desire to build deeper economic, diplomatic and security partnerships.
“By visiting, working and exercising alongside our partners we are standing up for our mutual interests, supporting regional stability, boosting our ties and promoting new trading opportunities.”
- The Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, Foreign Secretary, Tues 05 Oct 2021
Having been International Trade Secretary, Ms Truss knows that the countries with whom the UK is showing solidarity come from the fastest-growing economic region in the world. As Trade Secretary she negotiated with many of these, and in June 2021 the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreed to begin accession talks with the UK.
16 acres of sovereign British territory which even the EU can’t touch
The United Kingdom now has two new, state-of-the-art aircraft carriers, in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. With each of them having top decks of around eight acres, they are akin to self-powered islands of British sovereign territory, capable of being deployed anywhere in the world.
In practice, they will alternate the responsibilities with only one carrier group operational at a time, but in my main picture above they are shown together for the first time in May of this year.
AS Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group said:
“Having previously commanded both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, it was hugely exciting to be present as the two met at sea for the first time.
I know that sense of pride and accomplishment is shared by thousands of others, military and civilian, who have contributed to the Royal Navy’s carrier renaissance over the past decade or more.
The strategic significance is profound. Building one aircraft carrier is a sign of national ambition. But building two — and operating them simultaneously — is a sign of serious national intent. It means Britain has a continuous carrier strike capability, with one vessel always ready to respond to global events at short notice.
Few other navies can do that. Britain is back in the front rank of maritime powers.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
“The UK Carrier Strike Group is a great symbol of collaboration, both across the Armed Forces and our industry partners. Sailing together through a number of different environments, the partnership will uphold British values and international order.
By leading a large international exercise, practising its wide range of capabilities, and demonstrating its formidable size, Strike Warrior 21 has proved that years of hard work, training and planning have paid off. The UK Carrier Strike Group is ready to promote Global Britain and confront future security threats of the twenty-first century.”
Importantly, these 16 acres of UK territory are packed with the latest defence technology, from missile systems to F-35B fighter jets. Last week the military’s new high-speed drone from BAe, developed in Britain, was successfully launched by the Prince of Wales for the first time.
The QinetiQ Banshee Jet 80+ which flew from the carrier’s vast flight deck looks like a mini fighter aircraft. It can soar to 25,000ft, skim just above the waves, and flies at speeds up to 460mph.
Global Britain making a splash in the South China Sea and beyond
Since the end of May, the Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed over 32,000 nautical miles from the UK to Japan, undertaking a range of air and maritime operations from the Black Sea to the Philippines Sea.
As a tangible demonstration of the UK’s Indo-Pacific pivot, over the past three months, ships from the Strike Group have conducted a series of engagements with regional partners including Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
In a further demonstration of this international deployment, over the next two weeks, the Carrier Strike Group will navigate the South China Sea with ships and aircraft from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States.
Deterring Chinese aggression, keeping the seas open for shipping
With China ramping up its military manoeuvres and aggressive stance, the next two weeks should be interesting. China has declared the South China Sea for itself, in contravention of international law. It has been occupying small islands and building military installations and airfields, and on Monday it flew over 50 fighters and nuclear bombers towards Taiwan in what was clearly designed to be an intimidatory show of force.
Onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth are both British and American F-35B fifth-generation fighter jets. The F-35Bs from the US are from Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 211, “the Wake Island Avengers,” and the British jets are from the Royal Air Force’s famous 617 Squadron, “the Dambusters”.
On to India and the Middle East
Later this autumn, the UK Carrier Strike Group will start its long journey home in time for Christmas. On the way, it will visit India for joint maritime exercises as well as a programme of diplomatic engagements. It will conduct other engagements in the region before travelling to the Gulf.
There will be F-35 exercises with Oman and UAE air forces in the Gulf, and maritime training alongside the Royal Navy of Oman. Simultaneously the British Army will be taking part in exercises with Royal Army of Oman units which will link back to the ship to demonstrate interoperability between land and sea forces.
Deterring Russia and North Korea
It is worth noting that so powerful is this force that during its current deployment the Carrier Strike Group was able to detach warships for two separate activities.
Earlier this year while the task force was still relatively close to home, HMS Defender left the Group to sail into the Black Sea in order to establish freedom of the seas against an ever-aggressive and totalitarian Russia. The Royal Navy Destroyer encountered expected opposition, with Russian jets approaching and some Russian shots fired a distance away, which were of course ignored.
In a separate mission last week, the Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond was detached from the Task Force to head for the East China Sea on a UN mission to deter sanctions-busting by the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-un of North Korea.
A sovereign, democratic country versus autocratic empires
I started this article mentioning the unwarranted jibes from Remainers over many years, regarding all Brexiteers being ‘Little Englanders’. Not only was this never the case in my experience, but it was also based on the false premise that somehow the United Kingdom was no longer any kind of force internationally, as an independent and sovereign country. It was almost as if these people actually wanted us to appear impotent, otherwise, why subordinate ourselves to what is effectively a foreign power based in Brussels?
Its been my experience over the last six years that those who voted to leave the European Union did so for many reasons, none of which had anything to do with hankerings to return to “the glory days of the British Empire.” In fact, it was opposition to the idea of becoming part of an undemocratic and autocratic EU empire run from Brussels which prompted many to vote to leave. We simply wanted our freedom back.
In my article today I have clearly demonstrated that not only is the newly independent United Kingdom a potent force on the world stage, but it is also now free to partner with like-minded countries across the world, standing up for values that most British people espouse and agree with. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to demonstrate solidarity with Indo-Pacific nations, as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss intimated, with trade talks well underway with countries in a region growing much faster than the EU. (These trade talks were started by the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP and accelerated under Ms Truss in her previous role as International Trade Secretary.)
“Home and Away” — What will our forces be coming home to?
At home, the UK is facing many challenges, in common with countries across Europe and around the world. The headlong rush for ‘net zero’ before ensuring adequate and varied sources of power are available is causing massive hikes in people’s energy bills, with more to come. The current logistics problems with HGV drivers, and with the supply chain suffering shortages, are being felt in the EU and across the world. Has the Government or have businesses acted fast enough? Many would say they haven’t. Is this the fault of Brexiteers? Emphatically not. The simple fact is that now the UK has the power to make changes, which has perhaps taken some in Whitehall by surprise.
The fixation on COVID-19 to the apparent exclusion of all else seems to have caused a degree of paralysis in both the Government and in wider society. The lack of proportionality in the thinking of our ‘ruling classes’ will assuredly come back to bite them for years to come, as the consequences which are now emerging (and which I predicted) are becoming apparent.
In amongst all of this, however, the United Kingdom’s much-revered armed forces have simply got on with their jobs. Many civil servants might still prefer to slouch at home on full pay while those in the private sector have suffered terribly, but our military does not have that luxury. They had to make things happen — and they did because that is what we do, we crack on with the job, no matter who the Government is.
Am I proud of them? Damn right I am and so should you be too
The deployment of a UK Carrier Strike Group is a massive technical, logistical and management undertaking. Particularly when it’s led by an aircraft carrier that is relatively new to the Royal Navy. To be able to send this task force halfway around the world, to interdict aggressive nations seemingly bent on territorial expansion and the increasing breaking of the international rules-based order? This is a marvellous achievement.
Am I proud of our boys and girls? Damn, right I am. Away from home for so many months, they are doing a sterling job. We should all wish them all well — those from the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Army — and wish them all a safe return to Blighty and to their loved ones at the end of their current tour because unlike our politicians we can always rely on them to crack on no matter what job they are given to do.
[ Sources: Royal Navy | Royal Air Force | UK Cabinet Office | Ministry of National Defense, Republic of China | Stars and Stripes ]