Britain and US pledge to 'preserve freedom of the seas' before huge operation in Indo-Pacific

·3-min read
HMS Queen Elizabeth begins its maiden deployment to the Indo-Pacific region this month - PA
HMS Queen Elizabeth begins its maiden deployment to the Indo-Pacific region this month - PA

Britain and America's navy chiefs said they were "operating in lockstep to preserve the freedom of the seas" as they met in Washington on Tuesday before a massive joint deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

The UK's First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, said the deployment of the new Carrier Strike Group (CSG) was a testament to the strength of the special relationship "in an increasingly contested world", as well as a recognition of the economic advantages of the region.

The programme represents the UK's biggest deployment of maritime and air power since the Falklands war.

Adml Radakin said Britain plans to increase its naval presence in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of the recent integrated defence and security review.

The defence review, which was published in March, identified China and Russia as two key global adversaries.

"We see China as being a challenge and a competitor," Adml Radakin told reporters at Washington's Navy Yard on Wednesday. 

"I think when we talk about a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, it's about recognising the economic weight here. By 2040 to 2050, 40 per cent of the world's GDP is going to be harbored in that region.

Adml Radakin said Britain was committed to a
Adml Radakin said Britain was committed to a "free and open Indo-Pacific" - ROYAL NAVY

"This amazing thing called the high seas, this global commons, which allows trade and prosperity to flourish, that exists all around the world. The Indo-Pacific is a crucial part of that. And therefore, we will look to signal our belief in the freedom of the high seas, and in a free and open Indo-Pacific."

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The two-day visit is the first in-person event between Adml Radakin and his American counterpart, Admiral Mike Gilday, under the Biden administration.

It comes as HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier begins its maiden deployment to the Indo-Pacific region this month, joined by a US Destroyer, USS The Sullivans, and a detachment of US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

The deployment to the Asia-Pacific region will see the CSG travel more than 26,000 nautical miles over 28 weeks.

The CSG will visit 40 countries as part of the journey.

F-35B fighters land aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during exercises this week - GETTY IMAGES
F-35B fighters land aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during exercises this week - GETTY IMAGES

HMS Queen Elizabeth will also sail through the South China Sea, which Beijing has become increasingly assertive over in recent years, on her way up to Japan for the final section of the trip.

However, she is not expected to sail through the Taiwan Strait, which China would see as a provocation.

Adml Radakin said Britain's tilt to the Indo-Pacific region included having a "littoral-ready group" operating at the western end of the Indian Ocean as well as "reaching further East" while building relationships with the Five Powers Defence Arrangements.

However the First Sea Lord said the UK would also "continue to be strong in the Euro-Atlantic" as well as maintaining its naval responsibilities in other parts of the globe.

Read more: HMS Queen Elizabeth: Britain's flagship aircraft carrier - from conception to deployment

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