The UK’s Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will participate in full-spectrum exercises with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal as part of the annual KONKAN war games next month, sending an emphatic message of Indo-Pacific convergence as the 65,000-tonne warship heads for a maiden deployment in the South China Sea.
HMS Elizabeth is now engaged in anti-ISIS operations on the Iraq-Syria border, with UK and US F-35B stealth jets on board. It is escorted by destroyers from the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as frigates from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and a submarine. The warship set sail from the United Kingdom on May 22 for a 28-week deployment in the Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific in search of freedom of navigation.
While the dates for the KONKAN exercise are being finalized with the Indian Navy, the Carrier Group will wargame with Indian destroyers, submarines, P8I anti-submarine warfare planes, and MiG-29 K fighters around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The INS Vikramaditya, an Indian aircraft carrier, is undergoing maintenance and will not be ready for deployment until the end of 2021. This isn’t all, though. The Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will participate in a tri-service exercise with the Indian armed forces off the coast of Goa in the Arabian Sea in October on its way back to the UK via the Suez Canal. A three-day drill with the UK’s warship and support units will engage all three parts of the Indian military, including amphibious forces.
During the port visits, the Indian military will get a firsthand look at the F-35B stealth aircraft, which are optimized for short takeoff and vertical landing aboard the carrier. The Indian Navy is also looking for fighters for the indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, which will be commissioned next year to coincide with India’s 75th anniversary of independence.