Sending out an emphatic message of convergence on Indo-Pacific, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will participate in full-spectrum exercises with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal under the annual KONKAN war games next month as the 65,000-tonne warship heads for a maiden deployment in the South China Sea.
HMS Elizabeth, with the UK and the US F-35B stealth fighters on board, is currently involved in anti-ISIS operations on the Iraq-Syria border. It is accompanied by destroyers from the UK and the US, frigates from the UK and the Netherlands, and a submarine. The warship left the UK on May 22 for a 28-week deployment through the Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific in pursuit of freedom of navigation operations in the contested South China Sea.
While the dates of the KONKAN exercise are being finalised with the Indian Navy, the Carrier Group will war game around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with Indian destroyers, submarines, P8I anti-submarine warfare planes and MiG-29 K fighters. The Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is undergoing maintenance and will be out for deployment only at the end of 2021. But this is not all.
While on its way back to the UK via Suez Canal, the Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will be involved in a tri-service exercise with the Indian armed forces in October off the coast of Goa in the Arabian Sea. All three elements of the Indian military including amphibious forces will be involved in a three-day exercise with UK’s warship and its support elements. The exercise will be conducted in all three domains with the aircraft carrier paying port calls at Mumbai and Karwar, which will be the seat of India’s first maritime theatre command.
During the port calls, the Indian military will be a first-time experience of the punch of F-35B stealth fighters, which are designed for short take-off and vertical landing mode on the carrier. The Indian Navy is also looking for fighters on indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, which will be commissioned as India celebrates its 75th year of independence next year.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the helm of affairs, India and the UK have decided to deep military cooperation on Indo-Pacific with the objective of ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The Indian Navy on June 23-24 exercised with the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group off the coast of Goa as the Nimitz class warship returned from operational deployment in the South China Sea.