The United Kingdom will deploy its Aircraft Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth with her attached air wing Lockheed Martin F-35B stealth jets and carrier strike group to patrol the disputed South China Sea alongside the U.S. Navy.
The 65,000 metric ton HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to be fully operational by 2020. Carrier air wing consists of approximately 40 aircraft, including a squadron of F-35B stealth fighter jets that can take-off and land vertically.
The patrols will surely enrage China, and strengthen the right of all countries to conduct freedom of navigation. The Royal Navy said jet fighters from Queen Elizabeth would patrol the skies over the South China Sea.
At London’s Royal United Services Institute think tank, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson stated the U.K.’s new carrier would be sent to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Pacific for its first operational mission after extensive tests with F-35s in the U.S. late last year.
Japan recently added 100 jets to an earlier order for 42 F-35s, making the U.S. ally the biggest overseas client of the F-35.
The inclusion of F-35B short-takeoff and vertical landing variants in the latest order plus Japan’s decision to build a ship capable of launching the F-35Bs to extend power beyond Japan’s territorial waters. China and Japan are also engaged in a separate dispute outside the South China Sea
Beijing has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea and deploying weapons on them in recent years as part of its effort to claims the adjacent water, waters which contain vital shipping routes and oil deposits.