London: Queen Elizabeth II made a quick visit Saturday to the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier that bears the name of her eponymous forebear, ahead of its maiden operational deployment.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, named after the Tudor-era monarch who vanquished the Spanish Armada, will be leading a 28-week deployment to the Far East that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted is not confrontational towards China.
The 3 billion-pound (USD 4.2 billion) ship, which has eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart from Portsmouth Naval Base in southern England later Saturday. It will be accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
Arriving by helicopter, the 95-year-old monarch was greeted by the ship’s commanding officer Captain Angus Essenhigh and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, commander of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group.
The carrier group will travel through the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
It will carry out visits to 40 countries including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore with more than 70 engagements, including sailing alongside the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean. A total of 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines are involved in the deployment which will cover 25,000 nautical miles.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the deployment “will be flying the flag for Global Britain — projecting our influence, signalling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.”
The trip comes after the British government’s review of defence and foreign policy recommended that the UK. “tilt” its focus towards the Indo-Pacific region, in response to China’s growing influence on the world stage.
“One of the things we”ll be doing clearly is showing to our friends in China that we believe in the international law of the sea and, in a confident but not a confrontational way, we will be vindicating that point,” Johnson said when visiting the ship on Friday.