China will 'test' Royal Navy carrier group with jets and submarines in dangerous game of 'cat and mouse'

LURKING Chinese submarines and attack jets will ‘almost certainly’ seek to ‘cause mischief’ when HMS Queen Elizabeth sails into the Indo-Pacific later this year, an experienced naval chief has warned.

Friday, 12th February 2021, 1:31 pm

Commander Tom Sharpe said naval leaders faced a dangerous ‘game of cat and mouse’ and would need nerves of steel to avoid a ‘miscalculation’ if China sought to ‘test’ the reactions of the Royal Navy’s new carrier strike group when it arrives in the Far East.

Cdr Sharpe, who spent 27 years in the navy as well as a stint in communications at the Ministry of Defence, said Beijing would be eager to gather as much information about Britain’s new flagship and carrier group.

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‘I can guarantee you that they’ll overfly the group in aircraft, that’s a given,’ he told defence experts during a virtual debate staged by the Henry Jackson Society. ‘They’ll close, they’ll descend and they’ll test our responses.

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‘They’ll close the group with surface ships and they’ll be an exchange on various radios that is part and parcel of this business of cat and mouse.

‘They will almost certainly send their submarines out. Perhaps there will be one east of Suez waiting for us as a nice surprise.

HMS Queen Elizabeth pictured with some of her carrier strike group in 2020. Photo: Royal Navy

‘Our task group will need to be alert to this the whole time.’

In 2018, Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer HMS Duncan faced a similar test when it was ‘swarmed’ by 17 Russian jets as it sailed through the Black Sea.

Cdr Sharpe said if the Chinese wanted ‘to cause mischief’, they could seek to ‘repeat’ what they did in 2006, when a Song-class submarine surfaced in the middle of an American battlegroup.

He warned this could cause ‘absolute messaging chaos’, increasing the risk of an armed engagement if a mistake is made.

US and UK F-35B stealth jets pictured embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time last year.

‘They have lots of options, all of which do lend themselves to the risk of miscalculation,’ he said, adding: ‘We’re very used as a county and a navy, to dealing with that heightened level of miscalculation and I expect the interactions to be entirely professional, entirely cordial, with both sides gathering as much information as they can from the other and then being on their way.’

The claim comes as the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Tony Radakin, insisted the carrier strike group’s deployment in May was about building bridges.

Speaking yesterday, the First Sea Lord said Queen Elizabeth would act as a floating embassy to help Britain reach out to allies in the region and forge stronger trade links.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will be deploying to the Pacific in May. Here she is pictured with two embarked squadrons of F-35s. Photo: Royal Navy

‘This is about trade, as well as security, and it’s definitely about partners and allies,’ Adm Radakin said on Twitter.

Last week the UK announced a tightening of military links with allies in Japan.

Adm Radakin said the strike group’s mission ‘fits in’ with the UK’s efforts to enhance trade links with and take advantage of Japan’s ‘phenomenal economy in a phenomenal part of the world, where the UK is looking to be able to trade and to be a faithful ally to our friends and partners in that part of the region’.

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