The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will travel to the Indo-Pacific region next month, leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands War.
The government’s announcement of the deployment officially confirms reports that the carrier fleet was heading for an area of rising tension where China is in confrontation with neighbouring and western states over the ownership of mineral-rich waters.
The UK Carrier Strike Group will carry out engagements with the navies of India and Japan, who are in dispute over land and sea borders respectively with Beijing, as well as the navies of South Korea and Singapore. All four countries being visited are considered the west’s allies in countering what is seen as China’s expansionist strategy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The American destroyer, USS The Sullivans, with a squadron of 10 US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft will be part of the fleet, along with HNLMS Evertsen of the Royal Netherlands Navy’. They will operate alongside six Royal Navy ships, a British submarine with Tomahawk Cruise missiles, 14 naval helicopters, eight RAF fast jets and a company of Royal Marines.
Giving details of the strike group’s voyage, the Ministry of Defence said the mission was “part of the UK’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region… it will help achieve the UK’s goal for deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific region in support of shared prosperity and regional stability”.
Ships from the strike group will take part in the Exercise Bersama Lima to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Agreement between Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Malaysia is contesting Beijing’s claims on the South China Seas, while relations between China and Australia have deteriorated sharply in recent months over a number of contentious issues.
The deployment over 28 weeks will span 26,000 nautical miles with units from the group taking part in over 70 engagements in 40 countries. The French aircraft carrier, Charles De Gaulle, will take part in dual carrier operations while the British fleet is in the Mediterranean on the way to the Far East.
Air and naval forces from Canada, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Oman, Turkey and the UAE will operate alongside the strike group during various parts of the voyage.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, is due to tell the House of Commons on Monday : “When our Carrier Strike Group sets sail next month, it will be flying the flag for Global Britain – projecting our influence, signalling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.”