The UK carrier strike group led by 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth on its maiden trip has entered the Indian Ocean and is sailing towards India to conduct routine maritime exercises with the Indian Navy, the UK Defense Ministry said in a statement published on Friday.
The largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation sailed off from Portsmouth, England, on May 22 in a deployment that has been described as a show of military strength following the UK’s exit from the European Union last year.
“The UK Carrier Strike Group deployment is a major moment for UK defense as we develop this cutting edge capability across the globe,” Defense secretary Ben Wallace was quoted as saying.
Wallace claimed that it also illustrates London’s “enduring commitment to global defense and security, strengthening our existing alliances and forging new partnerships with like-minded countries as we face up to the challenges of the 21st century.”
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is carrying on deck 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, and is escorted by six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands.
The carrier strike group entered the Indian Ocean after a series of engagements and operations in the Mediterranean. The fleet is expected to visit 40 nations, including India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore, in a deployment covering 26,000 nautical miles.
Earlier in June this year, the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier launched the vessel’s first combat sorties with F-35 fighter jets targeting the Islamic State terrorist group in support of the American-led Operation Inherent Resolve, US Central Command (CENTCOM) had confirmed.
“HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first missions against Daesh [ISIS] will be remembered as a significant moment in the 50-year lifespan of this ship,” UK Carrier Strike Group 21 Commander, Commodore Steve Moorhouse said in the release. “Now we are ready to deliver the hard punch of maritime-based airpower against a shared enemy.
The strike group includes 18 fifth-generation F-35 Lightning jets, the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation and the strike group’s first operational deployment, the release said.
Sorties from Queen Elizabeth also mark the first combat mission flown by US-made aircraft from a foreign aircraft carrier since the UK Carrier Victorious in the South Pacific in 1943, according to the release.