- Britain’s most powerful warship will return to the US East Coast to train with F-35 fighter jets some time in late 2019.
- HMS Queen Elizabeth will exercise with fixed-wing and rotary-wing US aircraft on its 4.5-acre landing deck, Business Insider understands.
- The Royal Navy has not disclosed which ports and military bases the 70,000-ton craft will visit on the trip.
- This will be the Queen Elizabeth’s second trip to the US. It last trained with US F-35B jets in Maryland last September.
- The $4.5 billion carrier will be deployed to the South China Sea in the future to join up with the US fleet in the hotly contested region.
Britain’s newest and most powerful warship will return to the US for operational tests with aircraft like the F-35 later this year.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to the East Coast to engage in sea trials and flight trials with fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, like F-35 Lightning jets, sometime in late 2019, Business Insider understands.
The 919-foot-long aircraft carrier will visit several undisclosed US ports and bases on the trip — its second to the US. It recently qualified for full-fledged service after completing training with F-35B jets at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, last September.
During that trip the Queen Elizabeth — which cost $4.5 billion to build — hosted the first F-35 landing on a British carrier since 2010.
The Royal Navy does not comment on operational programs. The locations of its US port visits will be announced later, Business Insider understands.
The aircraft carrier’s official Twitter page teased the 2019 training mission last month
"Banish the January blues; we are one month closer to #Westlant19," it said, referring to the name of last year’s sea and air trials, named Westlant. "2019 will see us further, safely, tailor the F-35 to 4.5-acres of Sovereign Power along with expanding the capability of our Ship and crew."
"Cannot wait to get these immense flying machines back on deck though," it added.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to the US later this year as an operational vessel. It expects to be ready for frontline duties from 2021 onward.
A Royal Navy spokesman told Business Insider: "The flight trials for both helicopters and Lightning aircraft will take place over several periods between 2018 and 2020; this will include sailing HMS Queen Elizabeth and, later, HMS Prince of Wales to the East Coast of the United States of America."
HMS Prince of Wales, the second of Britain’s two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, is currently under construction and will be operational later this year.
The spokesman added that the upcoming trials will ensure that the Queen Elizabeth’s personnel and equipment "can safely integrate" with the F-35s.
"In addition to these safety critical flying trials, as part of the continuous upgrade of equipment and facilities, the ship and aircraft will also need dedicated sea-training exercises to ensure that the Ships’ personnel can operate to their full potential," he added.
On Monday, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he will deploy the Queen Elizabeth to the South China Sea at an unspecified future date, complete with two squadrons of British and US F-35 fighter jets. This would be the UK’s biggest mission yet to the region.
The move escalates a tense situation, as China fiercely asserts that the sea is its territory and frames other naval vessels’ sailing there as an assault on its rights.
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