In a couple of weeks, the largest British armada since the war in the Falklands in 1982 will sail in the disputed waters in the South China Sea en route to Japan and South Korea, a display of the United Kingdom’s reemergence on the global stage.

At the center of the British Royal Navy’s global deployment is its newest and most powerful warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 60,000-ton aircraft carrier capable of carrying up to 40 fighters and other aircraft.

On its deck, there will be 18 F-35 fighters, the world’s most advanced stealth aircraft, 10 from the United States and eight from the United Kingdom.

Last week, HMS Queen Elizabeth showed off its lethal capability, launching US and UK F-35 fighters to hit targets in Iraq and Syria, the carrier strike force’s first combat mission. It demonstrated the UK’s ability to hit targets anytime and anywhere from the carrier.

Two type 45 destroyers, two type 23 anti-submarine frigates, two logistics vessels and a nuclear-powered attack submarine will escort the carrier as it sails from its home port to the East China Sea, passing through the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Malacca, and South China Sea.

An American destroyer and a Dutch warship will join the voyage covering 26,000 nautical miles and 40 countries. Along the way the carrier strike group will have drills with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), India, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

At the height of its power in the 19th century, the British empire covered a much larger area than what Alexander the Great and the Romans had conquered in the ancient world and also that of Genghis Khan and the Ottoman Turks in the medieval up to the modern times.

The United Kingdom could not have built an empire without a strong navy. It reigned supreme after the defeat of the Spanish armada in the late 16th century until the second half of the 19th century, when the United States defeated its navy in several sea battles.

Washington also rose as a world power with a powerful navy in the late 19th century. It emerged after the Second World War with the largest and most powerful navy and continued to dominate the seas with 11 nuclear-powered carriers.

Both China and the United Kingdom have two carriers. Only eight navies have carriers, including France, Russia, India, Italy and Spain, which all have one carrier each.

More than a month after leaving its homeport in England, HMS Queen Elizabeth is in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and is days away from entering the Suez Canal en route to the Persian Gulf and into the Indian Ocean. It will have a stopover at a British naval base in Oman, about halfway in its maiden voyage to Japan.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is the most expensive public relations stunt initiated by the United Kingdom, as it hopes to regain the glory of its empire. London also wants to trumpet its reemergence as a global power, and is supporting Washington in challenging the rise of Beijing.

But the United Kingdom’s naval operations half the world away from its home port is unsustainable. It has no naval base in the region after handing over Hong Kong to China in 1997.

It could not actually project power effectively in the region. It can only do “show the flag” operations for a limited period, unlike the United States, which has naval bases in Japan and can rotate a number of surface and sub-surface combatant ships belonging to the US Navy’s 3rd and 7th Fleets.

USS Ronald Reagan is the only carrier strike group assigned to the 7th Fleet homeported in Japan, replacing USS George Washington, which underwent repairs. Two other carrier strike groups — USS Carl Vinson and USS Theodore Roosevelt — also hold freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.



HMS Queen Elizabeth would be better deployed to the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean to operate with the navies belonging to the NATO.

It would be a stretch for the United Kingdom and NATO to join the United States and its Quad partners — Australia, India and Japan — in patrolling the South China Sea. France and Germany are also interested in conducting freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea.

It would likely raise temperatures in the disputed sea and would increase potential accidents and limited conflicts as most Western navies sail within the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The region does not need additional state actors from faraway Europe. It already has more than enough disputes among countries in the region — China, the four Southeast Asian states, and Taiwan, regarded as a rogue province by Beijing.

Southeast Asia does not need the United Kingdom and NATO to further complicate the situation as the carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its freedom of navigation patrols in the region are widely seen by China as a provocation.

London will not achieve anything by sailing into regional waters, except showing off its newest weapon.