UK Navy Plans Patrols to China-Claimed Waters, but Faces Future Without a Single Anti-Ship Missile

London continues the policy of shouting loudly and carrying a tiny stick

Britain’s unfinished carrier

The British government never misses a chance to remind the Chinese that as soon as their HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is complete they will use it to patrol the South China Sea against China:

“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area, to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.”

When that might be is anyone’s guess. Even according to official schedule that won’t be until 2020, but even that is doubtful, as the carrier has so far been plagued by cost overruns and delays. The situation is even worse with the naval version of the F-35 “strike fighter” that is supposed to operate from the ship .

This is not all. It has come to light that in addition to not having an aircraft carrier, or aircraft for the carrier, the British war navy also faces the real prospect of not having anti-ship missiles. Any anti-ship missiles.

Currently its only such weapon is the antiquated, US-made Harpoon missile introduced in 1977. Due to its advanced age and poor range by modern standards the British are set to retire their Harpoons in 2020—but the replacement is not expected until 2030:

In 2010, Britain’s sailing branch opted not to replace the Harpoon, and one year ago it was revealed the missiles were set to retire at the end of 2018. In September 2017, IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly announced that the U.K. Ministry of Defense has delayed the retirement until 2020.

That buys the Royal Navy some time — but not much. Fundamentally, the situation hasn’t changed. The Harpoon is already obsolete and terribly outranged, which is why the United States is preparing the new 200-mile-range LRASM to replace it. But no new missile is expected for the Royal Navy until possibly 2030 when the Perseus missile by European developer MBDA is complete.

So let’s say that by 2020, by some miracle, both Britain’s $4 billion carrier and its air wing of F-35s are ready. What will these F-35s be armed with against Chinese ships? Actual harpoons?