With nine ships, including the flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, thirty-two aircraft, and more than 3,700 personnel, it is the largest Royal Navy flotilla to depart the UK in decades. Last month, the Carrier Strike Group began its first operational deployment, and it will take part in a seven-month global deployment through the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans and then to the Pacific.
Along the way, HMS Queen Elizabeth and the other warships will interact with more than one-fifth of the world's nations – more than forty in total – including multiple NATO partners during its 26,000 nautical mile global tour. The new carrier is also part of a multi-national force that includes six Royal Navy ships and submarines, a U.S. Navy destroyer, and a frigate from the Royal Dutch Navy.
The maiden voyage of the new British aircraft carrier is also being seen as a way for the UK to show its allies in the post-Brexit era that the Royal Navy is ready to defend western interests. It is also a show of force meant to alert Beijing that the nation that once "ruled the waves" will continue to defend the freedom of navigation around the globe.
"It shows that we are a global navy and wanting to be back out there," Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the Carrier Strike Group's commanding officer, told Reuters. "The aim for us is that this deployment will be part of a more persistent presence for the United Kingdom in that region," he added, referring to the Indo-Pacific that includes India and Australia."
The new 65,000-tonne vessel carries eight British F-35Bs and ten U.S. F-35s as well as 250 U.S. marines as part of its 1,700-strong crew. Many facets of this voyage will include notable "firsts" for Queen Elizabeth, and that includes taking part in a NATO exercise last week in the Mediterranean.
"It sends a message of NATO's resolve," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also explained while onboard the aircraft carrier.
"We face global threats and challenges, including the shifting balance of power with the rise of China," Stoltenberg said, adding that although China may now possess the world's largest navy, it is not considered an adversary by NATO.
The Carrier Strike Group will next be joined by French flagship aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle for a period of dual-carrier operations in the Mediterranean before the carrier transits the Suez canal and visit Oman, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore to strengthen Britain's security relationships, reinforce political ties and support our UK exports and international trade agenda.
Sea Power magazine also reported that elements of the Carrier Strike Group will also participate in Exercise Bersama Lima to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements between Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
"The U.K.'s Carrier Strike Group sets sail to write Britain’s name in the next chapter of history — a truly global Britain that steps forward to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, working hand-in-hand with our friends to defend our shared values and uphold the rules-based international order," said Defence Secretary Wallace. "This deployment shows that we are strong on our own, but even stronger with our allies. I want to join the nation in wishing the crews across the Carrier Strike Group every success as they depart on this truly historic endeavor."
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.