On Saturday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth paid a royal visit to the country’s new aircraft carrier, giving it a royal send-off before it embarks on its maiden operational voyage to Asian waters with a flotilla of British, US, and Dutch ships.
The 95-year-old monarch stepped aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, seven years after her late husband Prince Philip, who died last month, named the ship after her.
According to the UK Defense Ministry, the Queen spent her time aboard “meeting crew members and wishing them luck in what will be an unforgettable life experience by being a part of naval history.”
The crew gave the monarch a rousing salute as she prepared to leave the ship, according to a tweet from the royal family, with sailors shouting: “Three cheers for Queen! Hip hip, hooray, hip hip hooray, hip hip, hooray!”
The 65,000-ton warship will be manned by a 1,700-strong crew and will be equipped with eight British F-35B fighter jets and ten US Marine Corps F-35s.
On a journey of 26,000 nautical miles over 28 weeks, it will lead the flotilla alongside two destroyers, two frigates, a submarine, and two support ships. A destroyer from the US Navy and a frigate from the Dutch navy will join the group.
The flotilla will be the largest concentration of maritime and air power deployed from the UK in a generation, according to the Defense Ministry.
On its way to the Philippine Sea, the group will sail through the disputed South China Sea, which is claimed by China and Southeast Asian countries. The ships will also be stopping in India and Singapore.
As it makes its way to Asia via the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group will interact with more than 40 nations, accounting for more than a fifth of the world’s population.
The deployment, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will help to project British soft power, such as a belief in democracy and the rule of law.
“The UK’s Carrier Strike Group sets sail to write Britain’s name in the next chapter of history — a truly global Britain that steps forward to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, working hand-in-hand with our friends to defend our shared values and uphold the rules-based international order,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
The flotilla will take part in a NATO exercise with allies in the coming days before heading into the Mediterranean and eventually assisting NATO maritime security operations in the Black Sea, according to the UK Defense Ministry.
HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Naval Base Portsmouth for its first deployment, leading the UK Carrier Strike Group on a 28-week operational deployment that will take her from the Mediterranean to the Philippine Sea, covering over 26,000 nautical miles.
In the Mediterranean, it will also conduct dual-carrier operations with France’s aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle.
“As the Carrier Strike Group heads to sea, a new phase opens in Britain’s maritime renaissance,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of the strike group.
“A year’s worth of exercises, and more than a decade of preparation, is over. HMS Queen Elizabeth, her escorts and her aircraft, will now begin the most important peacetime deployment in a generation,” Moorhouse said.