UK to permanently station 2 patrol ships in Indo-Pacific

Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Mersey sets sail through the English Channel. (Photo courtesy of the U.K. Royal Navy)

JUNNOSUKE KOBARA, Security affairs editor | Japan

TOKYO — The U.K. will permanently deploy two patrol vessels to the Indo-Pacific following the deployment of a carrier strike group led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi here Tuesday.

The announcement highlights the expanding defense cooperation between the two countries in the face of Chinese activity around Taiwan and the nearby Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu.

The defense chiefs confirmed that the aircraft carrier will dock at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka during its visit to Japan in September. The country hosts the largest concentration of American forces outside the U.S.

Kishi said other ships in the Queen Elizabeth strike group will make port calls at Maritime Self-Defense Force bases in Yokosuka, Maizuru and Kure, along with the U.S. Navy’s Sasebo base and its White Beach facility in Okinawa.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, left, and U.K. counterpart Ben Wallace, right, at the Japanese Ministry of Defense in Tokyo on July 20.   © Kyodo

“Following on from the strike group’s inaugural deployment, the United Kingdom will permanently assign two ships in the region from later this year,” Wallace said in a joint announcement after the meeting. He also disclosed plans to deploy a Littoral Response Group in the coming years, centering on amphibious ships.

The patrol vessels are set to arrive in the region as soon as late August, according to the British Defense Ministry’s announcement. Friendly countries including Japan, Australia and Singapore will provide logistical and other support.

The meeting came less than two weeks after the strike group conducted counter-piracy drills with Japanese forces in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.K.’s Royal Navy plan to engage in more joint exercises during the Queen Elizabeth’s deployment in the region.

HMS Queen Elizabeth transits the Suez Canal in convoy with the U.K. Carrier Strike Group in mid-July. (Photo courtesy of the U.K. Royal Navy) 

“Japan and the U.K., which share basic values, must stand together to face challenges in the Indo-Pacific,” Kishi said.

The Queen Elizabeth strike group departed for East Asia in May, and is scheduled to visit Japan after stops in Singapore and South Korea. Besides the U.K.’s largest-ever aircraft carrier — carrying F-35 stealth fighter jets — the group also includes destroyers, frigates and support vessels, and is accompanied by American and Dutch ships.

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