The Queen was welcomed aboard the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth prior to her operational mission in the Indo-Pacific region.
The £ 3 billion warship with eight RAF F35B stealth fighter aircraft on board will depart for Asia later on Saturday accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
The Queen was greeted by the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Angus Essenhigh, and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG), as she arrived in a helicopter aboard the aircraft carrier at Portsmouth Naval Base.
The 28-week mission spans 26,000 nautical miles through the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
The CSG will conduct visits to 40 countries including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore with more than 70 engagements including sailing with the French airline Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean Sea.
Her tour follows a visit from Boris Johnson on Friday. The Prime Minister said the operation will give China a point and demonstrate the hard and soft power of Britain.
“One of the things we will do is show our friends in China that we believe in international law of the sea and that we will affirm this point in a confident but not confrontational manner,” said Johnson during his visit.
In addition to the British military units involved in the CSG, HMS Queen Elizabeth will also have a squadron of 10 US Marine Corps F35B Lightning II jets on board and be accompanied by the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the operation will “hoist the flag of Global Britain – projecting our influence, signaling our power, connecting with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow”.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has also announced that CSG’s lightning-fast F35B jets, operated by the prestigious Dambusters or 617 squadron, will join Operation Shader, which targets the remains of what is known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Iraq Targeting Syria.
The F35B jets are multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology that enable them to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
The airline was not expected to return to Portsmouth after a major exercise off Scotland and the CSG was expected to assemble in the Solent before departure.
However, high winds resulted in an unscheduled stop at the naval base, with most of the other ships in Devonport waiting to regroup before heading towards the Mediterranean.
The deployment was organized as part of Britain’s “Lean towards the Indo-Pacific Region” to “strengthen deep defense partnerships” and to participate in an exercise marking the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defense Agreement with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Accompanying HMS Queen Elizabeth, a surface fleet will consist of the destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond of the Type 45, the submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond of the Type 23 as well as the RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The Royal Navy’s Astute-class submarine will also be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
In addition to the stealth fighters, four Wildcat attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters and three Merlin Mk4 command helicopters will board – the largest number of helicopters assigned to a single British task group in a decade.