The UK’s largest warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its strike task group has sailed into the Indian Ocean region, where it will conduct joint exercises with the Indian Navy as part of Britain’s efforts to enhance its profile in the Indo-Pacific.
Britain has described the maiden voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth and its task group as the country’s most ambitious naval deployment for two decades, and the warships will also sail to the South China Sea for military drills with the US Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday the carrier group’s deployment “marks the start of a new era of defence cooperation with allies in India and the Indo-Pacific”. He added, “By visiting 40 countries and working alongside our partners, the UK is standing up for democratic values, seizing new trading opportunities and tackling the shared threats we face together.”
“This deployment will provide tangible reassurance and security to the UK’s friends and a credible deterrence to those who seek to undermine global security,” the British high commission said in a statement.
The carrier group entered the Indian Ocean region after a series of engagements and operations in the Mediterranean. The 65,000-tonne carrier will participate in the Konkan exercise with warships of the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal. The drills are expected to be conducted around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with the involvement of Indian destroyers, submarines and P8I anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
On its way back to the UK later in the year, the carrier group is expected to join another tri-services exercise with the Indian military in the Arabian Sea in October. All three services are expected to participate in this three-day war game.
Britain said HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deployment represents the country’s commitment to deeper diplomatic, economic and security ties with India and in the Indo-Pacific region, and also demonstrates the UK’s support for freedom of passage through vital trading routes and for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “The UK carrier strike group deployment is a major moment for UK defence as we develop this cutting edge capability across the globe. The group is sailing the Indian Ocean and will shortly conduct exercises with the Indian Navy, building on our already strong partnership with an important ally and friend.”
The deployment reflects the UK’s commitment to strengthening existing alliances and forging new partnerships with like-minded countries to face the challenges of the 21st century, he added.
The carrier group sailed into the Indian Ocean shortly after the UK’s posted its first international liaison officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram. The US, Australia, France and Japan also have a presence at the centre, which tracks shipping and monitors threats such as maritime terrorism and piracy in regional waters.
Lieutenant Commander Stephen Smith, who was posted at the centre last month, works with India’s armed forces and liaison officers from the other nations to enhance maritime domain awareness in the region.
As part of its maiden operational deployment, the UK carrier group will sail more than 26,000 nautical miles and engage with 40 countries from the Mediterranean to the Indo-Pacific and back again.
The carrier group’s presence in Indian waters will give the Indian military an opportunity to assess first-hand the capabilities of its fifth generation F-35B Lightning multi-role aircraft, which are jointly manned by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and US Marine Corps.
The carrier group also serves as the spearhead of the UK’s joint expeditionary capability and a cornerstone of the country’s conventional military deterrent. The group includes six Royal Navy ships and a submarine, a US Navy destroyer, a frigate from the Netherlands and 32 aircraft, and is manned by 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines from the combined forces of the UK, US and the Netherlands.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest surface vessel constructed in the UK. Taller than the Niagara Falls, her propellers generate the power of 50 high-speed trains.
Among the countries with which the UK carrier group will have engagements in the region are Singapore, South Korea and Japan, and these interactions will build on other efforts by Britain to enhance its profile in the Indo-Pacific. These efforts include seeking Asean dialogue partner status, negotiations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and trade talks with Australia, New Zealand and India.