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British warships set sail to Indo-Pacific as new carrier prepares for joint exercises

By Jake Thomas
British warships set sail to Indo-Pacific as new carrier prepares for joint exercises
Warships MS Spey and Tamar leaving HM Naval Base in Portsmouth on a deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Photo courtesy of the British Royal Navy

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- The British Royal Navy has deployed patrol ships to the Indo-Pacific region as its newest aircraft carrier has started training exercises.

Warships MS Spey and Tamar have left HM Naval Base Portsmouth and are currently sailing across the Atlantic on their way to the Indo-Pacific, where they will operate for the foreseeable future in an effort to bolster the country's presence, Britain's Royal Navy said Tuesday in a press release.

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The ships' five-year mission will take them from the eastern shores of Africa to the west coast of the U.S.

"Two-thirds of the world is our playground," Lt.Cmdr. Ben Evans, HMS Spey's commanding officer, said in a press release. "We are going to places that the Royal Navy has not visited in a long time -- that's really exciting."

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Over the summer, the HMS Queen Elizabeth traveled through the South China Sea, a disputed body of water, where it was reportedly stalked by two Chinese Shang class submarines armed with cruise missiles.

Both the MS Spey and Tamar are crewed by 46 sailors, half of which will be swapped out from Britain every few weeks.

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Up to 52 Royal Marines will join the ship's crews, as well as mission-specific equipment to deliver humanitarian aid or to help with evacuations.

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The Royal Navy said the ships' versatility makes them "2,000-ton Swiss Army knives."

HMS Prince of Wales has also sailed from Portsmouth for a series of exercises intended to make Britain's newest aircraft carrier fully functional, the Royal Navy said on Monday.

The carrier will participate in Joint Warrior, Britain's largest military exercise off the Scottish coast.

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Last year, 10 U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighter planes arrived on the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of the exercises.

The HMS Prince of Wales will embark with four F-35Bs and Merlin helicopters. The ship will also participate for the first time with a fast jet and helicopter air group operating alongside each other on its deck, Royal Navy officials said.

The ship was recently at sea for five days to give trainee reservist officers experience, as well as for flight deck training that included a submarine-hunting Merlin helicopter from 814 Naval Air Squadron.

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Over the spring, the ship underwent intensive training that included a visit to Gibraltar and the embarkation of an F-35 Lightning stealth fighter, officials said.

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The carrier has also completed operation trials that trained the 700 crew members on their ability to operate the ship, fight fires, mechanical breakdowns and other issues.

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