The Royal Navy announced this week that the largest naval flotilla since the Falklands War in 1982 will be assembled in the coming weeks. The strike group will be led by the flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will make her maiden voyage. Along with her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, she is the largest warship the United Kingdom has ever sent to sea.
“When our Carrier Strike Group (CSG) sets sail next month, it will be flying the flag for Global Britain—projecting our influence, signaling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday.
“The UK is not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st century,” Wallace added.
Joining the carrier will be Royal Navy destroyers, two anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates, a submarine and two auxiliary supply ships. The 65,000 ton HMS Queen Elizabeth carries eighteen Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters—flown by both the Royal Air Force and United States Marine Corps—while the still-to-be-named submarine will be armed with Tomahawk missiles. The strike group will carry a company of Royal Marines and at least fourteen Royal Navy helicopters.
It will be the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983. The Ministry of Defence also said it will be the “largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world.”
According to a report from CNN, which cited the International Institute for Strategic Studies, this will be the “most capable flotilla deployed by a single European navy in recent years. While it will not replicate a U.S. Navy carrier strike group, it will probably be closer to it than anything else that is currently deployable.”
The naval force will visit India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore as part of a display of the United Kingdom’s commitment to exert a much stronger presence in Asia. In total the carrier and other vessels are expected to visit more than forty countries during the deployment.
It is meant to deepen security and political ties, but also to support the UK’s exports and international trade. Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Indo-Pacific region would become a key to the UK’s defense and foreign policy focus after leaving the European Union (EU).
Wallace said the deployment was not meant to be “confrontational,” yet it comes as China has been increasingly assertive in regards to its own military build-up.
“We are not going to the other side of the world to be provocative,” Wallace had previously told Parliament. “We will sail through the South China Sea, we will be confident but not confrontational.”
The deployment of the carrier force is expected to last at least six months, and it will take part in dozens of exercises including one to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements made with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.