LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II made a quick visit Saturday to the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier that bears the name of her eponymous 16th- century predecessor, ahead of its maiden operational deployment.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the latest Royal Navy ship to honor the Tudor-era monarch who vanquished the Spanish Armada in 1588, will be leading a 28-week deployment to Asia that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted is not confrontational toward China.
The 3 billion-pound ($4.2 billion) ship, which has eight RAF F35B stealth fighter jets on board, is scheduled to depart from Portsmouth Naval Base in southern England, accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
Arriving by helicopter, the 95-year-old monarch was greeted by the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Angus Essenhigh, and Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, commander of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group.
While aboard, she was given a briefing on the upcoming deployment and had a chance to chat with some of the 1,700 personnel. The queen wore a scarab brooch that had been a gift from her late husband, Prince Philip, a former high-ranking naval officer who died last month at age 99.
The carrier group will travel through the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, then from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
It 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. A total of 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines are involved in the deployment which will cover 25,000 nautical miles.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said the deployment “will be flying the flag for Global Britain — projecting our influence, signaling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.”
The trip comes after the British government’s review of defense and foreign policy recommended that the U.K. “tilt” its focus towards the Indo-Pacific region, in response to China’s growing influence on the world stage.
“One of the things we’ll be doing clearly is showing to our friends in China that we believe in the international law of the sea and, in a confident but not a confrontational way, we will be vindicating that point,” Johnson said while visiting the HMS Queen Elizabeth on Friday.