American Lockheed Martin (LMT) F-35s will embed on the maiden mission of the U.K.’s HMS Queen Elizabeth to disputed waters in the South China Sea.
At London’s Royal United Services Institute think tank Monday, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the U.K.’s new carrier will 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.
Williamson didn’t give a time frame for the deployment, but the HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to enter service by 2020. The so-called Big Lizzy’s voyage will officially be a mixed U.K.-U.S. deployment.
“Significantly British and American F-35s will be embedded in the carrier’s air wing. Enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that United States remains the very closest of partners,” Williamson said.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) February 11, 2019
Durning his speech, Williamson also highlighted the U.K.’s purchase of nine Boeing (BA) Poseidon P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that will allow the U.K. to “patrol thousands of miles of ocean and greatly enhancing our anti-submarine and maritime capability.”
Lockheed shares fell 0.5% at 300.08 on the stock market today. F-35 subcontractor Northrop Grumman (NOC) was up 0.25% and F-35 engine maker United Technologies (UTX) climbed 0.2%. Boeing stock edged down 0.2%.
South China Sea A Big Stage For F-35s
The deployment of F-35s to the South China Sea comes as regional tensions have boosted demand for the stealth fighter.
Japan recently added 100 jets to an earlier order for 42 F-35s, making the U.S. ally the biggest overseas buyer of the F-35 after the U.K.
The inclusion of F-35B short-take off and vertical landing variants in the latest order plus Japan’s decision to build a ship capable of launching them mean the country will be able to use the F-35Bs to project power beyond Japan’s territorial waters. China and Japan are engaged in a separate dispute outside the South China Sea
Meanwhile, South Korea is also buying F-35s amid growing concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
South Korea also hosted a deployment of U.S. Marine Corps F-35s in 2017 for training exercises. The South China Sea deployment will be another high-profile opportunity to showcase the F-35’s capabilities to U.S. allies and adversaries.
Chinese Aggression In 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 key shipping routes and oil deposits.
The U.S. and its allies have conducted so-called freedom of navigation patrols through the South China Sea despite Chinese warnings that they must first get permission from Beijing.
Late Sunday night, the U.S. destroyers USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed by the disputed Spratly Islands, according to CNN.
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