Australia is joining forces with the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands for naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific in a show of strength that an expert says marks the UK’s return as a global maritime power as it seeks to protect its interest in the face of an expansionist China.
The U.S. and UK defence secretaries co-signed the UK-US Joint Declaration for the Carrier Strike Group 2021 deployment on Jan. 19.
An Australian Department of Defence spokesperson told The Epoch Times that it welcomed the upcoming Indo-Pacific deployment by the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group and said advanced planning is underway to determine how the navies can train together during the deployment.
“Australia and the United Kingdom share a unique relationship based on shared history and values, with both nations committed to a rules-based international order that supports economic growth, security and prosperity,” a Defence spokesperson said.
“The Royal Australian Navy routinely seeks to train with partner navies to build interoperability, share mariner skills and enhance professional ties in the region, particularly in this case with the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier.”
Further details of Australia’s involvement are yet to be confirmed.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group, as an instrument of the UK’s strategic sovereign power, will field an array of military capabilities, ranging from two operational squadrons of F-35Bs, a nuclear-powered Astute class ballistic missile-carrying submarine, and the most advanced Destroyers and Frigates in the world.
It will be joined by personnel from the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, including a detachment of the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II aircraft and the Navy’s destroyer, USS The Sullivans.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I am delighted that the UK now possesses a 21st century Carrier Strike capability, which has been greatly assisted by the unswerving support and cooperation of the United States at all levels over the past decade.
“This deployment embodies the strength of our bilateral ties and reflects the depth and breadth of this vital defence and security partnership,” he said.
The UK-led carrier strike group comes amid a sweeping review of the UK’s foreign policy dubbed “the most radical assessment of the UK’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War.”
It also comes as the island nation sets out a new approach to warfighting in its Integrated Operating Concept 2025 announced last year, which the UK government calls “the most significant change in UK military thought in several generations.”
Robert Clark, a defence fellow at London think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said the deployment represents a step change in the strategy behind utilising the Armed Forces, and in particular the Royal Navy, as a means of strengthening the Global Britain foreign policy agenda.
“Whilst both the deployment and in particular re-emergence of aircraft carriers to the British fleet represents a return to great power projection for the UK, it is also hugely symbolic of how the UK wishes to engage with regional allies and partners in advancing shared interests, whilst mitigating against shared threats,” Clark told The Epoch Times on Feb. 16.
Clark thinks the carrier strike group will serve as a nucleus for allied countries to step up their own maritime presence in the strategically critical Indo-Pacific region, which has seen China and its PLA Navy militarise vital sea lanes in the South China Sea.
The Royal Navy has conducted five freedom of manoeuvre operations across the South China Sea since 2018, and Clark expects they will occur again jointly with partnered navies this year.
“This activity will almost certainly occur with the (carrier strike group 2021), and highly likely to include freedom of manoeuvre operations with partnered maritime forces across these contested waters,” Clark said. “Whilst this is not a show of force against the PLA Navy, it will actively demonstrate that the UK is committed to enforcing a free and open Indo-Pacific in light of aggressive Chinese expansionism, and their disregard for the UNCLOS.”