A fleet of British warships and military aircraft billed as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation” will depart next month for visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
The voyage will be a display of Britain’s ambition to exert a much stronger presence in Asia, reports the Associated Press.
New aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the most powerful surface vessel in the Royal Navy’s history, will be accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, 14 naval helicopters and a force of Royal Marines.
The carrier, named after the first Queen Elizabeth, who reigned in the 16th century, weighs 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed of 25 knots. The carrier and its sister ship HMS Prince of Wales cost more than US$8 billion to build.
“The mission aims to show that Britain is not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday. “It will help deepen security and political ties and support Britain’s exports and international trade.”
Wallace noted China’s increasingly assertive military build-up, but said the deployment was not meant to be “confrontational”.
“We are not going to the other side of the world to be provocative. We will sail through the South China Sea, we will be confident but not confrontational,” he told Parliament.
The deployment is expected to last about six months and visit more than 40 countries. It will take part in dozens of engagements, including an exercise to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Indo-Pacific region will become Britain’s defence and foreign policy focus as the UK reconsiders its place in the world order after leaving the European Union.