Britain to send its new aircraft carrier to Pacific Ocean in call to use ‘hard power’ against Chinese aggression

Britain’s Royal Navy will deploy the country’s sole aircraft carrier to the Western Pacific when it has completed sea trials by next year as London seeks to join the United States in staring down Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Monday during a speech at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank, that the UK and Western powers must be ready to “use hard power to support our interests,” and that failing to challenge or even intervene against aggressive foreign powers “risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger.”

To that end, Britain plans to deploy its sole carrier, the new 65,000-ton, conventionally-powered HMS Queen Elizabeth, to one of the emerging volatile hot spots in the world, as China continues to make outsized claims throughout the South China Sea including building island bases from which it could dramatically impact (read control) one of the globe’s most lucrative trade routes.

The new carrier with its complement of 36 F-35B fighters and four helicopters would serve alongside U.S. Navy warships and others belonging to Western powers and allies in the region including Japan, Australia, and South Korea.

Williamson’s call for a tougher line against China comes as American warships increase their operational tempo in the South China Sea. Just this week a pair of guided-missile destroyers, the USS Spruance and USS Preble, conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, a Beijing-controlled artificial island in the Spratly chain.

The operation, as usual, drew a stiff rebuke from the Chinese foreign ministry, which accused Washington of “provocative actions.”

Wang Yiwei, professor in international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post that Britain was attempting to exert itself following Brexit, but that as a key U.S. ally certainly has a role to play in the region.

“The main motive of British politicians is to salvage damaged confidence in the country’s future as Brexit … has caused huge uncertainty. They are trying to demonstrate strength and power,” he said.

Possibly. But overall, Britain appears to have come to realize that its military power has waned since the Cold War — especially its naval might — in ways that are not good for the country’s long-term national security interests. HMS Queen Elizabeth, along with her companion carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, are the largest warships ever built by the Royal Navy, coming 100 years after London began work on its first multi-purpose aircraft carrier.

In late 2018, Williamson announced plans for a new British naval base in the Western Pacific region, perhaps in Singapore or Brunei, as well as a more permanent presence in the area.


Once-mighty RAF is disintegrating: One-third of British warplanes not ready for prime time

A report in British media is claiming that the Royal Air Force, which saved the country from Nazi invasion in 1940, is not ready for full-on combat should another war break out in Europe.

The Daily Mirror reports that one-third of British RAF planes were either in storage or in maintenance as the air service celebrated its 100th year in existence.

Quoting the Defense Ministry, the news site said that aircraft have been mothballed and taken out of front-line service for periods of time because they need repairs and upgrades.

Figures uncovered by freedom of information requests found that 142 of the RAF’s 434 planes are unavailable for combat duty.

That includes Typhoon fighters, which can attain speeds of up to 1,500 mph and “are the last line of the UK’s air defense against Russian forces” that have also flown “daring bombing missions attacking Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.”

The report noted that British military officials said 55 of the 156 Typhoons comprise the RAF’s “sustainment fleet,” and are not part of the “forward fleet” used for combat ops.

Additionally, other plans and helicopters in the so-called forward fleet could be “short-term unserviceable aircraft.”

The readiness figures are said to be an embarrassment to the RAF which celebrated its centennial last year.

Critics say the UK’s cuts in military spending have led to a hollowing out of some forces including the RAF.

Shadow Defense Secretary Nia Griffith noted: “Conservative cuts have had a crippling effect on this country’s defences and our ability to respond to the range of threats that the UK faces.

“In 2017 it was the year of the Navy, but so many of our frigates and destroyers are tied up for months on end,” Griffith added.

“In 2018, when we were all so proud to mark the centenary of the RAF, it is very surprising that so much equipment is unavailable,” she said.

“It is time for Conservative Ministers to be honest about their legacy of eight years of austerity in defense. Labour is committed to rebuilding this country’s defences and giving our armed forces the resources that they need.”

Lord Ming Campbell, the defense spokesman for Liberal Democrats, noted further: “It is self-evident that aircraft have to be withdrawn from the frontline in order for repairs and routine servicing to be carried out.

“But the strength of the Royal Air Force depends not just on the quality of the pilots and their aircraft but availability to meet any threat or to take part in NATO operations,” he said. “These figures seem to go beyond what is necessary for repair or service.”

President Donald Trump has criticized NATO members for not spending their agreed-upon 2 percent of GDP on their militaries, even as the U.S. ramps up defense spending — in large part to meet its NATO commitment and better prepare the alliance for future conflict.

As for the RAF, it is phasing out its Tornado aircraft with Eurofighter Typhoons and F-35Bs, the latter of which will be stationed aboard Britain’s new aircraft carriers.

UK’s F-35Bs are ready for combat, MoD says

The United Kingdom has become the latest country equipped with U.S.-made F-35Bs to get them operational, significantly adding to the Royal Air Force’s combat capabilities.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), in a statement, described the milestone as “a huge landmark” in what has been “the biggest defense project in history.”

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson made the announcement in a brand-new hangar at RAF Marham, where the RAF has also built a state-of-the-art training facility for F-35 pilots.

“The incredible F-35 jets are ready for operations, a transformed Typhoon has the power to dominate the skies into the 2040s and we continue to look even further into an ambitious future. The RAF has long shown Britain at its great and global best, and today it lifts our nation to even greater heights,” said Williamson, the UK Defence Journal reported.

Currently, the RAF has 17 F-35s in its inventory, with 18 more being built or on order. The plan is for the UK to procure 138 planes over the life of the program.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier described the “significant step,” adding that “our F-35s are now ready to deploy on operations and, alongside our combat-proven Typhoon, offer a step-change in our ability to employ air power around the world.”

Williamson said that the Typhoon has been integrated with three new weapons: Stormshadow, Brimstone, and Meteor, allowing it to take over for the Tornado ground attack aircraft which the UK will retire later this year.

Of the original nine partner countries –  Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – six have received their first jets.

Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, UK, US, Israel and Japan have pilots and maintainers either fully trained or at some point in the training process.