LONDON: The UK's Carrier Strike Group (CSG), led by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, is all set to sail to India where it will conduct joint exercises with Indian military forces in the Indian Ocean later this year, the UK government said on Monday.
The 3-billion pounds HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier -the largest ship ever built by the Royal Navy- will sail to India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the wider region on its maiden voyage as a central representation of the 'Indo-Pacific tilt' in the UK's foreign policy.
The CSG consists of Royal Air Force F35B stealth fighter jets on board and is also accompanied by Royal Navy ships, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, naval helicopters, and a company of Royal Marines.
"The UK and India are natural defense 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," said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
"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 Carrier will visit West Coast Ports where it will engage in a series of events to maximize bilateral relations benefitting both countries' trade and political alliances.
The ship will conduct a series of joint exercises with Indian Military Forces in the Indian Ocean, with a goal to expand UK-India interoperability and enhance capabilities to defend against 'shared threats' and protect "democratic values".
The British High Commission in New Delhi said that throughout the deployment, the UK will support freedom of passage through vital global trading routes and demonstrate commitment to a recognized international system of norms and behaviors 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,"it said.
The UK and India have a bi-annual exercise programme across all the services where Indian and British forces undertake joint exercises: Exercise Ajeya Warrior for the Army, Exercise Konkan for the Navy, and Exercise Indra Dhanush for the Air Force.
The deployment plans for the autumn had been announced as part of the UK government's landmark Integrated Review of foreign, defence, development and security policy, published last month.
It 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 latest announcement follows UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab's meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in New Delhi last December to make progress towards agreeing a UK-India roadmap for greater joint cooperation, including on defence and security, trade, health and climate change.
Later this year, the UK has invited Prime Minister Modi to attend the G7 Summit in Cornwall, in what the UK government described as a 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.
The CSG 2021 will also comprise Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, Type 23 anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, and tanker and storage ships Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring.
It 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.
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 UK has the world's fifth largest defence budget -highest in Europe and second highest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
It is also the second-largest defence exporter in the world.
During the 28-week deployment, ships from the group will visit more than 40 countries for more than 70 engagements, including an exercise marking the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.