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UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps announced on 14 December 2023 that a Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group will visit Japan as part of its flagship Indo-Pacific deployment in 2025.

The group, comprising an aircraft carrier, along with its escorts and aircraft, will work alongside the Japanese Self Defence Forces and other partners “to help defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific”, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in a press release.

On a visit to Japan’s Yokosuka Naval Base Shapps highlighted the importance of the UK exercising its best capabilities alongside partners in the region.

“The strength and global reach of the UK’s armed forces should never be underestimated. The Carrier Strike Group 2025 is another tangible example of our ability to deploy globally,” stated Shapps. “Such deployments send a strong deterrence message while presenting important opportunities for engagements with key partners. Japan is our closest security partner in Asia and the task group’s visit to the country will only serve to strengthen our military and diplomatic ties.”

“Following the inaugural deployment in 2021, the Carrier Strike Group 2025 highlights the strength of the UK’s leadership in seeking to uphold stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the MoD stated. “This has been bolstered by the Royal Navy’s persistent presence in the region through [the offshore patrol vessels] HMS Spey and HMS Tamar, as well as the landmark Global Combat Air Programme collaboration,” the MoD added.

The MoD did not specify which of the Royal Navy’s two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers would undertake the deployment to Japan.

First-in-class HMS Queen Elizabeth led a 2021 task group on a journey of 55,000 nautical miles, stretching from the Eastern Atlantic to Japan and back, on a deployment that saw UK military and diplomatic engagement with more than 40 nations.

The UK’s second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, was formally commissioned into the Royal Navy at a ceremony in Portsmouth on 10 December 2019, but then had a faltering start to its service.

In May 2020 the carrier experienced flooding initially described as minor by the Royal Navy, but then in October 2020 suffered more significant flooding that damaged its electrical cabling. HMS Prince of Wales was confined to docks for almost eight months while repairs were undertaken and a long-planned deployment to the United States for trials with the ship’s F-35B Joint Strike Fighters was cancelled.

HMS Prince of Wales returning to Portsmouth on 11 December 2023 after exercising with the US Navy and Marine Corps off the US East Coast. As first-in-class HMS Queen Elizabeth has already visited Japan, it is perhaps more likely that HMS Prince of Wales will lead the Royal Navy’s Indo-Pacific Carrier Strike Group deployment in 2025. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

Declared fully operational in October 2021, HMS Prince of Wales took part in an international exercise off the coast of Scotland that month. On 27 August 2022 the ship departed Portsmouth to train with the US Navy but then suffered mechanical problems with a propeller drive shaft two days later. The ship arrived in Rosyth for repairs on 12 October 2022 and eventually returned to sea for trials nine months later on 21 July 2023.

On 15 November 2023, however, the ship made history when a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Mojave uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) became the largest UAV ever to be launched from a UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier during trials off the US East Coast.

The ship returned to Portsmouth on 11 December after further exercises with the US Navy and Marine Corps.

As first-in-class HMS Queen Elizabeth has already visited Japan, it is perhaps more likely that HMS Prince of Wales will lead the Royal Navy’s Indo-Pacific Carrier Strike Group deployment in 2025.

The ship, however, will be looking to fare better than its historical namesake; the Royal Navy King George V-class battleship HMS Prince of Wales was sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service on 10 December 1941 off the coast of Malaya.

That HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, which was sunk in the same battle, became the first capital warships to be destroyed by naval air power alone on the open sea (although the aircraft were not carrier based).