The United Kingdom’s HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group has seen dozens of interactions with Russian fighter jets and warships during its current deployment throughout the Indo-Pacific region. The U.K.’s carrier group even recorded more than 30 intercepts of armed Russian fighters operating near the carrier group in a single two-week period.
In an interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s commanding officer, said while the aircraft carrier began launching its first F-35 sorties from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea and over Iraq and Syria, its forces encountered dozens of armed Russian fighters jets.
“Throughout, we were maintaining an on-deck ready alert capability to respond to Russian air incursions and overflies,” Moorhouse said.
“Was this all needed? Was it necessary? Yes it was,” Moorhouse added. “There were over 30 live intercepts of armed Russian fighter and bomber aircraft conducted in just over two weeks.”
Moorhouse said that in addition to keeping a constant watch for Russian aerial incursions, the Queen Elizabeth strike group also deployed Merlin anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters with the strike group’s frigates to keep track of the Russian submarines “that had deployed to welcome us.”
“It was this high-tempo operation, in the face of a challenging and competing adversary, that provided the foundation from which the strike group could prepare for the less familiar but equally contested seas of the Indo-Pacific,” Moorhouse added.
The high-frequency encounters come after another controversial interaction between British and Russian forces in June, when Russia fired warning shots and dropped bombs near a British warship that Russia said had crossed into its territorial waters in the Black Sea.
BFBS characterized the U.K. Royal Navy’s latest encounters with Russia’s military aircraft and vessels as a sign that Russia sees the U.K.’s service as a threat.
The revelations about the frequent encounters with Russia’s military forces came on the second day of the navy’s Pacific Future Forum. During the forum, Royal Navy First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Antony David Radakin described what he saw as the U.K.’s shifting focus towards the Indo-Pacific region, which he underscoured with the announcement of the recent technology-sharing partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, known as AUKUS.
“You have the strategic announcement about AUKUS,” Radakin said. “So I think this is a rich period where we actually are following through on a policy announcement and in a very substantial way.”
BFBS reported the HMS Queen Elizabeth strike group will have worked with 40 different nations by the time it concludes its deployment.