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Britain to send new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to Pacific

By Allen Cone
Britain to send new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to Pacific
HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is scheduled to become operation in 2020, will be deployed to the Pacific Ocean at an unspecified date, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Monday. Photo courtesy of the U.K. Ministry of Defense

Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Britain will deploy its new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, to the Pacific Ocean as the kingdom plans for a future military role globally once it leaves the European Union.

The deployment for the ship, which is scheduled to become operational in 2020, also comes as China has been involved in a dispute over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

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"The UK is a global power with truly global interests," Defense Minister Gavin Williamson said Monday to the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London. "And since the new global great game will be played on a global playing field, we must be prepared to compete for our interests and our values far, far from home."

Britain's defense budget, which was around $52.5 billion in 2017, is set at 2 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the government.

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The HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is the Royal Navy's only aircraft carrier and was commissioned in 2017, will carry British F-35s, as well as U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs.

He said a combined U.S.-British air wing aboard the carrier will be "reinforcing the fact that the United States remains our very closest of partners."

"We share the same vision of the world," he added. "A world shaped by individual liberty, the rule of law and, of course, the tolerance of others. We have the unique ability to integrate with U.S. forces across a broad spectrum of areas. And, we are more determined than ever to keep working together."

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Williamson did not specify where in the Asia-Pacific region the carrier would transit, but last month British and U.S. warships conducted six days of coordinated drills in the South China Sea.

And on Monday, the U.S. Navy sent two warships past Chinese-claimed islands in the Spratly chain, a move that prompted "strong dissatisfaction" from Beijing.

"China is developing its modern military capability and its commercial power," Williamson said.

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Williamson said the the 65,000-ton carrier Queen Elizabeth also will make appearances in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

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Britain is planning for a post-Brexit future, including permanent new bases in the Asia-Pacific and Caribbean. Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29.

"For us global engagement is not a reflex reaction to leaving the European Union. It is about a permanent presence," he said.

Wang Yiwei, professor in international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told the South China Post "the main motive of British politicians is to salvage damaged confidence in the country's future as Brexit ... has caused huge uncertainty. They are trying to demonstrate strength and power," he said.

Williamson also announced two new littoral strike groups are to be created. The units, which will considt of escorts, support vessels and helicopters, will be based to the East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and to the West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic.

And to complement these groups, a Warfighting Division with troops will be deployed from bases at home and in Germany. "This will all ensure we have a global force, capable of deploying around the world in a matter of days," he said.

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