Russia and China are expected to "behave responsibly" and not respond recklessly to Britain's aircraft carrier, the First Sea Lord has said, as Britain’s Carrier Strike Group sets sail on its first deployment.
Britain’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, left Portsmouth on Saturday night to lead six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands in the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.
The seven-month global deployment is the UK Carrier Strike Group’s maiden operational deployment.
The nine ships, plus 32 aircraft and 3,700 personnel, will route through the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean and on to the Indo-Pacific.
Given the proximity to Russian forces in the Black Sea and Beijing’s assertive claims to disputed areas in the South China Sea, international tensions could be inflamed.
Admiral Tony Radakin, First Sea Lord, said he expected Russia and China to “behave responsibly”.
“I don't expect to see the recklessness that we've seen of Russian behaviour in the past.
“I don’t expect to see aggression from China when UK forces with their allies are going about activity in a very legal and clear manner.
“We’ve got to put an onus on these countries to behave responsibly. We're behaving responsibly and we will expect other nations to behave responsibly as well.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth has eight F-35B Lightning II fighters from 617 Squadron, the joint Royal Navy and RAF unit, and 10 similar aircraft from the US Marine Corps embarked.
Operating alongside the jets are four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters. It is the largest number of helicopters assigned to a single UK Task Group in a decade.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff said the government’s recent Integrated Review of foreign, defence, security and development policy highlighted Russia's “increasingly reckless, aggressive behaviour [and] adventurism”.
He said the review was also “very clear-eyed about Chinese expansionism”.
“What we're going to be signalling with the carrier strike group is as much aimed at Russia and China, as it is to our Nato allies, to our allies in the Middle East, to our allies in South Asia, to our allies in the Asia Pacific.”
The Carrier Strike Group will engage with over 40 nations during its 26,000-nautical-mile global tour, undertaking over 70 engagements, exercises and operations with allies and partners.
The maritime force will be joined by French Aircraft Carrier Charles De Gaulle for a period of dual carrier operations in the Mediterranean and participate in Exercise Bersama Lima to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements between Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Air Chief Marshal Wigston said the “strategic message” of the deployment was the power of multilateralism and working with allies.
“We will have many audiences,” he said.
“China and Russia will be just two of them.”