The Queen has been welcomed on board Royal Navy flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of its operational deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.
The £3 billion warship, with eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart later on Saturday for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
The Queen was greeted by the ship’s commanding officer Captain Angus Essenhigh, and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG), as she arrived by helicopter on board the aircraft carrier at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Her tour follows a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.
The 28-week deployment will cover 26,000 nautical miles travelling through the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
The CSG will carry out visits to 40 countries including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore with more than 70 engagements, including sailing alongside the French carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean.
As well as the UK military units involved in the CSG, HMS Queen Elizabeth will also have a squadron of 10 US Marine Corps F35B Lightning II jets embarked and be accompanied by the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the deployment “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 Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also announced that the CSG’s F35B Lightning fast jets operated by the renowned “Dambusters” squadron, or 617 Squadron, will join Operation Shader targeting the remnants of so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The F35B jets are multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology – enabling them to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
The carrier had not been expected to return to Portsmouth after taking part in a major exercise off Scotland and the CSG had been expected to gather in the Solent prior to departure.
But heavy winds led to the unscheduled stop in the naval base with most of the other ships waiting at Devonport to regroup before sailing for the Mediterranean.
The deployment has been organised as part of the “UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region” in a bid to “bolster deep defence partnerships” as well as to take part in an exercise to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Agreement with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
Accompanying HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a surface fleet 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.
The Royal Navy Astute-class submarine will also be deployed, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
As well as the stealth fighters, four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters will be embarked – the greatest quantity of helicopters assigned to a single UK Task Group in a decade.