LONDON — U.S. combat jets and a destroyer are to join the British Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier on its maiden operational deployment to the Asia-Pacific region later in 2021, after officials formally approved the deployment Tuesday.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and U.S. acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller co-signed a joint declaration approving the deployment of U.S. Marine and U.S. Navy assets as part of a carrier strike group led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the British Ministry of Defence announced.
U.S. assets attached to the carrier strike group will include a detachment of Marine F-35Bs and the destroyer The Sullivans, the announcement said.
The U.S. military has been regularly flying its short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing F-35Bs from the deck of the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth as the new carrier tests its capabilities. The warship was commissioned in December 2017, and the carrier strike group achieved initial operating capability in December 2020.
The inclusion of Marine combat jets on the warship has long been planned by the two governments, not least because Britain has a modest numbers of F-35Bs available.
The British carrier also will deploy Leonardo-built Merlin helicopters for anti-submarine missions and other duties.
Wallace said in a statement that the U.K. “now possesses a 21st century carrier strike capability, which has been greatly assisted by the unswerving support and cooperation of the US at all levels over the past decade.”
“This deployment embodies the strength of our bilateral ties and reflects the depth and breadth of this vital defence and security partnership,” he added.
The British government has not officially announced where the deployment is expected to take the carrier force, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously said the group would be going to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific region. That’s expected to include Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Oman; Britain has a naval support base in the latter.
British officials previously signaled the carrier and its support ships could transit through the South China Sea, where the U.S. regularly conducts freedom of navigation operations in disputed waters claimed by China.
A second carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, was commissioned in late 2019 and is scheduled to become operational in 2023. It was hit by a serious flooding incident last year, which caused the cancellation of a trip to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard for trials with the F-35B.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.