UK set to flex military might as warships embark on six-month global mission

Britain announces largest naval and air warfare deployment in more than 40 years

A flotilla of British warships and fighter jets will visit “the trouble spots of the world” over the next 28 weeks in the biggest show of naval and aerial firepower in more than four decades.

The voyage will be headed by £3 billion ($4.1bn) aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth – the most powerful vessel in the Royal Navy's history – with eight jets on board in its maiden operational deployment.

Billed as the largest concentration of UK maritime and air power in a generation, the aircraft carrier will be accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.

The Carrier Strike Group will set sail for Asia, but will visit Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Air and maritime forces from the UAE will operate alongside the group for part of the trip, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

In total, the flotilla will visit 40 countries, with more than 70 engagements with foreign forces.

India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are among the confirmed destinations on the tour – demonstrating Britain's strategic “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific region to counter the increasing military strength of China.

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the Indo-Pacific region will become Britain’s defence and foreign policy focus as the UK reconsiders its place in the world order after leaving the EU.

Malcolm Chalmers from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) defence think tank noted that the voyage coincides with the UK’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"It's important to remember not only where the carrier will end up – in Japan and east Asia – but it will also spend a lot of time in the Mediterranean supporting Nato, going through the Suez Canal, Oman, and all the issues in that region with the American withdrawal of Afghanistan due to be completed this summer more or less when the carrier will be there," Mr Chalmers told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“In many ways, it’s going to be a tour of the trouble spots of the world.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the mission aims to show that Britain is “not stepping back but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system”.

“We’re going to sail 26,000 nautical miles to visit our friends and show solidarity with Japan and others and come back and we are going to deliver both a demonstration of British capability, which is important when you’re dealing with your adversaries, but also demonstrate our solidarity and the upholding of our values,” he said.

“The difference between us and our adversaries … we have friends, we have alliances.”

He said the voyage would also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Agreement between Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia.

“We’re not going on our own to confront a tier one superpower – we go as a solidarity or a partnership,” he said. “You attack one, you attack us all.”

The flotilla is expected to be watched closely by China as it sails through the disputed South China Sea.

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