UK’s Indo-Pacific policy: HMS Queen Elizabeth to sail to India, Japan, others

HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier will conduct a series of joint exercises with Indian Military Forces in the Indian Ocean. (File Photo: AP)

NEW DELHI: The UK’s carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the wider region this autumn, as a representation of the Indo-Pacific tilt in the UK’s foreign policy, a statement from the British High Commission said on Monday.

This will be the Carrier Strike Group’s maiden operational deployment, it said, adding that it comes after the UK government’s landmark review of foreign, defence, development and security policy, published last month.

The review had “committed the UK to becoming the European country with the broadest, most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific in support of trade, shared security and values.”

The Carrier Strike Group (CSG) will travel over 26,000 nautical miles from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, and from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea. Besides the Queen Elizabeth, the CSG will comprise two destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, two anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond and a tanker and a storage ship – Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring.

“On the flight deck there will be eight F-35B Lightning II fast jets, four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and airborne early warning helicopters, and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters,” the statement said.

In India, the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier, the largest ship ever built by the Royal Navy, will visit west coast ports where it will “engage in a series of events to maximise bilateral relations benefitting both countries’ trade and political alliances,” the statement said.

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“The ship will conduct a series of joint exercises with Indian Military Forces in the Indian Ocean, expanding our interoperability and enhancing our capabilities to defend against shared threats and protect our democratic values, “ it said.

Throughout the deployment, the UK will “support freedom of passage through vital global trading routes and demonstrate commitment to a recognised international system of norms and behaviour that benefit all countries. It will also help to establish a maritime partnership with India to support our mutual security objectives in the Indian Ocean,” the statement added.

UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace said, the “UK and India are natural defence partners, particularly in world class research, development and training. The Carrier Strike Group’s collaboration with India will build the foundations for this relationship to flourish even further.”

“The deployment is a symbol of Global Britain in action, and powerfully demonstrates our commitment to India, the Indo-Pacific region, and confronting threats to international order,” he said.

The UK and India have a bi-annual exercise programme across all the services where Indian and British forces undertake joint exercises – including Exercise Ajeya Warrior for the Army, Exercise Konkan for the Navy, and Exercise Indra Dhanush for the Air Force.

Outlining the close ties between India and the UK, the statement recalled that in December, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had visited New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Modi and his Indian counterpart Foreign Minister S Jaishankar to progress towards agreeing a to landmark UK-India roadmap for greater joint cooperation, including on defence and security, trade, health and climate change.

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Later this year, the UK has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the G7 Summit in Cornwall “in recognition of India’s role as the world’s largest democracy and as a vital partner to the UK in tackling global challenges like climate change and coronavirus,” it said.

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