HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to sail into the region in the summer. It will be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker and RFA Fort Victoria. Any movements from allied forces in the region will likely inflame tensions with China as the nation has declared its plans to take “necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty”.
Chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Carter, told The Times China presents a “strategic challenge” for the UK.
General Carter suggested a permanent presence in the South China Sea is unlikely, but pointed to the likelihood of “regular episodic activity” from British fleets.
In a statement earlier this month, Japanese and British ministers confirmed “that Japan-UK cooperation in maritime security will continue to be a priority”.
It added that the visit of HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region in 2021 “will contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is the Fleet Flagship of the Royal Navy capable of carrying over 50 aircraft.
The vessel is expected to set sail as the flagship of a carrier strike group in May and arrive in the region by late summer.
According to a Government press release, the strike group will be “complemented by US Marine Corps and US Navy Personnel and equipment.
The strike group will include a detachment of F-35Bs and the US destroyer class vessel – USS The Sullivans.
READ MORE: South China Sea: Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth enters disputed waters
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Japan and the UK have forged a close defence and security partnership that is being elevated to new heights this year when the UK Carrier Strike Group visits the Indo-Pacific.
“The most significant Royal Navy deployment in a generation demonstrates the UK’s commitment to working with our partners in the region to uphold the rules-based international system and promote our shared security and prosperity.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added: “The UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt, including the visit of HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, demonstrates our shared priorities and common strategic interests from maritime security to climate change and free trade.
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In recent years, the British army has become the only military besides the US to train with Japanese forces on Japanese soil.
Tensions have been especially high in the region since China accused the US of undermining “regional peace”.