U.K.-led carrier strike group’s voyage supports Indo-Pacific partners
The United Kingdom’s most formidable maritime deployment in decades is demonstrating how a resurgent Royal Navy can project global power in cooperation with the United States, European allies and regional partners in the Indo-Pacific.
The U.K.’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, is leading Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), which left the North Atlantic in May 2021 as part of Operation Fortis. The task force is expected to travel 26,000 nautical miles in a voyage that will last through December 2021 and eventually reach Japan. Along the way, it will sail Indo-Pacific waters, including the South China Sea, through which passes more than U.S. $5 trillion in goods each year, much of which concerns the industries and consumers of the U.K. and its allies.
The mission helps assure regional partners of the commitment of the U.K. and its allies to freedom of navigation as contained in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence called the mission a practical demonstration of the U.K.’s intent to “tilt” its military, trade and diplomatic efforts to the Indo-Pacific, as outlined in the government’s March 2021 “integrated review,” which defines the U.K.’s global role in the next decade.
U.K. defense efforts in the Indo-Pacific already include the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore.
The CSG21 task force includes two frigates, two destroyers and a submarine from the Royal Navy, as well as the U.S. Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate HNLMS Evertsen. There also are 10 U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning fighter jets assigned to the carrier along with eight F-35Bs from the U.K. Royal Air Force.
“This deployment highlights the global reach of the U.S. and U.K. Armed Forces and their interoperability,” Col. Simon Doran, the senior U.S. officer aboard the Queen Elizabeth, told MARINES, the Marine Corps’ website. “The U.K. stands amongst our most stalwart and capable allies, and this deployment enhances the deterrence and defense capabilities of the NATO alliance.”
The task force has linked up with French and Italian warships while underway and launched sorties in the Middle East against the Islamic State group involving F-35s from the U.K. and U.S. In the Indo-Pacific, it will conduct air and naval exercises with the Japan Self-Defense Forces and visit other key defense partners including India, Singapore and South Korea. (Pictured: French Rafale jet fighters are parked on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the background during a June 3, 2021, exercise off France).
The deployment already has seen several milestones. The operations against the Islamic State group in June marked the first time that U.S. planes have gone into combat from another nation’s warship since World War II, according to the U.K. Defence Ministry. Those missions also marked the first combat sorties for the Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship the Royal Navy has ever put to sea. The deployment of a formalized carrier strike group is also a first for the U.K., according to United Press International.
In a statement, U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the strike group is a “symbol of ‘Global Britain’ in action and demonstrates our commitment to Japan, the Indo-Pacific region, and confronting threats to international order.”
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