What is the strength of the British aircraft carrier strike group to “deter China and Russia”

“The most powerful aircraft carrier in British history is about to launch its first overseas deployment.” “The UK’s largest fleet of ships since the Falklands War will go to the Asia-Pacific.” “This trip will prove to the world that Britain has not regressed, but is moving forward.” Announcing the deployment plan of the “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier strike group that began in May, the Western media is a buzzword. Kyodo News Agency of Japan stated on April 27: The British move is intended to strengthen security cooperation with Japan and the United States to “check and balance China.” Japan’s defense minister Nobuo openly stated on the 27th that he “welcomes the British aircraft carrier’s Asia-Pacific tour”. So what is the strength of the British aircraft carrier strike group that the West has high hopes for?

British Navy's Carrier Strike Group formation
British Navy’s Carrier Strike Group formation

Seven-month voyage “Deterring China and Russia”

The British Sky News website said on the 26th that in the 28-week deployment, the “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier strike group will sail more than 26,000 nautical miles, from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea. In the meantime, the ships of the strike group are expected to visit more than 40 countries and participate in more than 70 missions, including sailing with the French carrier “Charles de Gaulle” in the Mediterranean and conducting a series of exercises with the Indian navy in the Indian Ocean.

Japan hails U.K. plan to send aircraft carrier group to Asia | The Japan  Times

British Secretary of Defense Wallace said, “When our aircraft carrier battle group sets sail next month, the global British flag will fly high. This demonstrates our strength and influence and brings us closer to our friends. It also reaffirmed our commitment to solving current and future security challenges.” “They will prove to the world in more than half a year that the UK is not regressing, but advancing, and will be shaping the international system of the 21st century. Play an active role.”

The British aircraft carrier strike group made no secret of the purpose of this trip. The British “Times” stated that Britain is considering separating two warships from the aircraft carrier strike group into the Black Sea to demonstrate against Russia. But what makes the outside world even more concerned is that the British aircraft carrier strike group is going to the Asia-Pacific to “check and balance China and respond to security challenges.” In particular, whether the British aircraft carrier will launch a joint training with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has caused speculation. On the 27th, Nobuo Kishi expressed the willingness of the British aircraft carrier to conduct joint training with the Self-Defense Force when it docked at a Japanese port.

A supercarrier that lacks of fighters

However, in the eyes of industry insiders, the real combat power of the “Queen Elizabeth”, known as “the most powerful aircraft carrier in British history,” is doubtful. From the paper data, it is indeed called a “super aircraft carrier”: the displacement is as high as 65,000 tons, which is close to three times that of the previous British “Invincible” class aircraft carrier; it adopts the original dual-ship island design, which is claimed to greatly improve the operation Efficiency: The carrier can also carry more than 40 US-made F-35B stealth fighters, and its overall combat capability is second only to the US super carrier.

royal navy F-35B
royal navy F-35B

However, the embarrassing reality is that due to insufficient British military budget and the slow delivery of the United States, the “Queen Elizabeth” only carried eight F-35B fighters on this trip. For an aircraft carrier whose main combat power is embodied in carrier-based aircraft, the lack of most carrier-based aircraft can be called “streaking.” Earlier reports speculated that in order to make up for the lack of combat power of carrier-based aircraft, the United Kingdom is considering inviting F-35B fighters from the US Marine Corps to be stationed on its own aircraft carriers during the voyage .

Even if the problem of carrier-based aircraft is solved with the help of the US military, the first deployment of the new aircraft carrier “Queen Elizabeth” carried out a seven-month voyage, I am afraid the British Navy itself is also sweating. In fact, the aircraft carrier has been in constant problems since it entered service. As early as 2017, during the sea trial, it suffered a serious water leakage accident due to problems with the sealing of the propeller shaft. In 2019, the ship was once again forced to end its maritime training and return to its home port for maintenance due to “internal system leakage”. In October 2020, the same-class ship “Prince of Wales” aircraft carrier also suffered a water leakage accident, and the outside world therefore questioned the British aircraft carrier’s flaws at the beginning of its design. Now that the “Queen Elizabeth” has to deploy such a long voyage, it is doubtful whether it can “complete the distance”.

The escort ships continue to fail

British media claimed that the “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier strike group is “the largest fleet of British ships since the Falklands War”. The accompanying escort ships included two Type 45 guided-missile destroyers “Defencder” and “Diamond”, two Type-23 frigates “Kent” and “Richmond”, 1 “Fort Victoria” class integrated supply ship, 1 “Tide” class fuel supply ship and 1 “Smart” class nuclear attack submarine equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. In order to enhance the escort strength of the British aircraft carrier strike group, the United States and the Netherlands also provided an air defense warship each.

Type 045 HMS Dragon (D35) destroyer
Type 045 HMS Dragon (D35) destroyer

From the standpoint of organization, the British navy can indeed be regarded as “sweeping out of the family” in order to form the “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier strike group. The US “Defense News” said on the 26th that the warships dispatched this time accounted for a considerable part of the British Navy’s surface fleet-the UK currently only has 6 destroyers and 13 frigates.

Among them, the Type 45 guided missile destroyer is known as “Europe’s current most powerful air defense destroyer”, equipped with advanced phased array radar and 48-mounted vertical launch system. However, the ship is plagued by power system failures. In 2017, all six Type 45 destroyers were forced to return for repairs due to power system failures. The Type 23 frigate is an old ship that entered service in the late 1980s. It also has continuous breakdowns, and the UK has long been preparing to retire it. Therefore, whether these troubled British escort ships can follow the fledgling “Queen Elizabeth” aircraft carrier to the Asia-Pacific region, I am afraid if it is still a problem.

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