Portsmouth patrol ship to set sail to Indo-Pacific as Britain pivots east to face mounting Chinese threat

ROYAL Navy top brass will deploy a Portsmouth-based patrol ship to waters in the Indo-Pacific later this year as military leaders seek to bolster Britain’s naval presence in the region.

Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 2:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th April 2021, 2:36 pm

The vessel, which has not yet been identified, will form part of the UK’s new ‘tilt’ towards Asia which will see more warships being deployed to the area over the next few years.

Expected to be sent to act in a maritime security role, the patrol ship could tackle anything from drug smugglers and criminals, as well as providing a potential platform for Royal Marines of special forces to operate from in the future.

It comes as the last of five new batch two River-class patrol ship, HMS Spey, joined the fleet in February.

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Pictured is HMS Spey, the last of the navy's new breed of offshore patrol vessels pictured leaving Portsmouth. Phot: LPhot Luke

The deployment is part of the UK’s new foreign policy strategy, entitled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’, which mark’s Britain’s first major return to having a persistent naval presence east of the Suez in more than 50 years.

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First and foremost to this return is the decision to deploy the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the Pacific this year.

The £3.2bn aircraft carrier will lead ‘Europe’s most powerful' naval task force on a major deployment in May.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails from Glen Mallen in Scotland. Photo: Royal Navy

The visit is expected to see the 920ft warship and her flotilla sailing into the Mediterranean, the Gulf and Indo-Pacific – with potential visits to Japan and Singapore on the cards.

But as part of the government’s integrated review on security and foreign policy, unveiled last month, the trip by Queen Elizabeth will be among the first of many by the navy.

As well as a patrol ship operating in the region from this year, the security review also set out a timeline for when other naval forces will set sail – which includes Britain’s experimental littoral response group.

The task force, made up of amphibious assault ship HMS Albion, Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship RFA Lyme Bay and Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Dragon, will form the backbone of the new Future Commando Force.

Prime minister Boris Johnson pictured giving a speech to MPs in the House of Commons earlier this year.

Under the government’s security review, the littoral response group has been earmarked to sail to the Indo-Pacific in ‘2023’, with a permanently assigned frigate heading to the region ‘by the end of the decade’, defence minister Baroness Goldie confirmed.

She added: ‘These forces will intentionally operate asymmetrically, without a nominated base. They will use existing UK, allied and partner facilities around the region enabled by our existing global support agreements.’

The pivot east is in response to the growing threat mounted by China and will be seen as a direct challenge to Beijing.

During a speech to parliament, prime minister Boris Johnson warned of the threat of China – but also said the UK would rather ‘work with it’ than clash against it.

‘There is no question that China will pose great challenges for an open society such as ours,’ the PM told MPs. ‘But we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests, including to build a stronger and positive economic relationship and address climate change.’

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