(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
The Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will bring the focus on Quad and the Indo-Pacific when the naval force exercises with the Indian Navy’s Rajput class guided-missile destroyer, an attack submarine and anti-submarine warfare aircraft in the Bay of Bengal while en route to the contested South China Sea.
An armada of 12 warships, more than 30 aircraft, two submarines and over 4,500 personnel from Indian and Royal Navy will exercise from July 22-23 under the annual Exercise Konkan rubric. The Elizabeth CSG is on a maiden deployment with state-of-the-art F-35B fighters on board and is accompanied by top-of-the-line destroyers from the US and Netherlands. The CSG after exercising with Indian Navy will head towards the Indo-Pacific and exercise with Japanese, South Korean, New Zealand and Australian Navies.
The Elizabeth CSG deployment is part of Britain’s Indo-Pacific tilt post-Brexit and dovetails into Quad coalition of democracies efforts to stand up to the Chinese Navy’s growing ambitions and aggression in the Indo-Pacific. As a part of this effort, Britain has decided to permanently station two of its patrol boats in the Indo-Pacific in an order to ensure freedom of navigation and rule of law in the sea.
The Elizabeth CSG will be exercising with Japanese maritime forces and will make a port call to Yokosuka, the homeport of USS Ronald Reagan, the only forwardly deployed super carrier of the US. Japanese urgency to ramp up its military capabilities and deepen military cooperation with Quad and other allies comes at a time when China has emerged as country’s top security threat. Only last week, Chinese propaganda machines threatened to nuke Japan if it interferes in Taiwan or East China Sea by saying that Beijing will revisit its no first use option. Japan has a running land dispute with China over Senkaku Islands in East China Sea.
After touring the Indo-Pacific, the Elizabeth CSG will conduct tri-services exercises with the Indian military off the coast of Goa in Arabian Sea. The joint exercises will be held on October 21-23 in Karwar harbour and in high seas on October 24-27 with complex amphibious landing manoeuvres and joint operations in all three spectrums. CSG Elizabeth will make a port call at Karwar and Mumbai ports with top officials of the Indian military going on-board the aircraft carrier for operational meetings.