UK’s Massive Naval Fleet Equipped With F-35 Jets To Hold Drills With India, Japan

India will hold joint war games with the UK Royal Navy’s largest Carrier Battle Group since 1982, led by the mighty HMS Queen Elizabeth, in the Indo-Pacific region sometime in autumn.

The aircraft carrier with the latest fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II fighter jets on-board will undertake her maiden voyage through the region next month.

The move is in sync with the new Indo-Pacific tilt of the British government. This is the largest concentration of the Royal Navy in a generation after the Falklands War in 1982.

Japan is also planning to hold joint naval drills with the United Kingdom during the upcoming visit of the Royal Navy strike group headed by the new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said on Tuesday.

During the deployment, the CBG will make friendly visits to 40 countries including India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. The fleet is led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth has replaced the HMS Ocean as the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship.

“When our Carrier Strike Group sets sail next month, it will be flying the flag for Global Britain – projecting our influence, signaling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.

“The entire nation can be proud of the dedicated men and women who for more than six months will demonstrate to the world that the UK is not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st Century,” the UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said.

This statement by Ben Wallace is an indication of renewed British policy against the rising challenges in the far east and threats posed by China, a matter that found mention in the UK’s Integrated Defense Review published in March. 

The Carrier Battle Group will visit India in autumn — the only navy in the region with active and combat-capable aircraft carrier(s), second only to the PLA Navy. The Indian Navy also holds a strong command over the Strait of Malacca, the most vital maritime route connecting the Indian Ocean with the West Pacific. The latter is an essential chokepoint for any navy, especially against the PLA.

The British fleet will conduct joint exercises with the Indian armed forces, the scale of which is yet to be known. “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,” a UK government press release said.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is the most powerful surface vessel of the Royal Navy, and would be escorted by Type 45 guided missile destroyers — HMS Diamond and HMS Defender — Type 23 anti-submarine warfare frigates HMS Richmond and HMS Kent, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s logistics ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring.

Also providing more firepower to the fleet will be an Astute-class nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk ballistic missiles and Spearfish torpedoes.

However, the main attraction to the fleet is the latest fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II fighter jets, and military enthusiasts are also eyeing possible clicks of Indian Flankers with the famous American fighter.

Four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters, and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters will also be part of the exercise, marking the largest helicopter fleet assigned to a single Royal Navy task force in a decade.

The Carrier Strike Group 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.