HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead Britain’s biggest deployment of naval and air power since the Falklands War as it sets sail on its maiden voyage next month.
The £3 billion warship, with eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will be joined by six navy ships, 14 helicopters and a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Hailed by the Ministry of Defence as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation,” the deployment will visit more than 40 countries over 28 weeks.
The Carrier Strike Group (CSG) will seek to deepen ties with Indo-Pacific nations including India, Japan, South Korea and Australia amid China’s rising power in the region.
The air force will see the greatest quantity of helicopters deployed in a single UK Task Group in a decade.
Four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters and seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters will be embarked alongside a squadron of 10 US Marine Corps F35B Lightning II jets.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who will reveal details of the deployment to Parliament, said: “When our Carrier Strike Group sets sail next month, it 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 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.”
Ships from the CSG are expected to undertake more than 70 engagements, including sailing alongside the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean.
The deployment will also involve taking part in an exercise to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
It has been described by the Ministry of Defence as part of the “UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region” in a bid to “bolster deep defence partnerships.”
A surface fleet will be made up of Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, Type 23 anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring.
Prior to leaving the UK, the CSG will take part in a major exercise, Strike Warrior, off the coast of Scotland before departing for the Mediterranean.