Royal Navy warships leave Britain for landmark Pacific deployment

HMS Spey and HMS Tamar depart for their forward deployment to the Indo-Pacific

Hong Kong (CNN)Two Royal Navy patrol ships left the United Kingdom on Tuesday for a five-year deployment that will see them act as "the eyes and ears" of Britain from the west coast of Africa, to the west coast of the United States, according to a British Defense Ministry statement.

"Two-thirds of the world is our playground," said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Evans, commanding officer of HMS Spey, a 2,000-ton, 300-foot-long offshore patrol vessel that will team with HMS Tamar for a mission that is not expected to see them return to their Portsmouth home port until 2026.
While patrolling the waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the warships will venture as far north as the Bering Sea and as far south as New Zealand and the Australian state of Tasmania.
    In the center of that region is China, with whom tensions have been heating up with Britain's top ally, the United States.
      "They will act as the eyes and ears of the Navy -- and nation -- in the region, working alongside Britain's allies, carrying out security patrols to deal with drug-running, smuggling, terrorism and other illegal activities, joining in exercises with other navies and armed forces, and flying the flag for Global Britain," the Defense Ministry statement said.
      Global Britain is the country's post-Brexit blueprint to exert British influence around the world in a number of areas, including in the case of the two warships, military security.
      Britain in March released a sweeping review of its military and foreign policy, in which it recognized a tilt toward the Indo-Pacific in the coming decade and warned of the challenges coming from China.
        HMS Spey and HMS Tamar each carry a crew of 46, members of which the Royal Navy says will be swapped out as frequently as every few weeks as the service tries to get regional experience to its crews, while not burning them out on the far-flung mission. That will also allow the ships to spend up to nine months at a time at sea, the navy said.

        '2,000-ton Swiss Army knives'

        The ships will not have a permanent base in the Pacific. Instead, they'll call in bases and ports of allies and partners as best suits their mission, the navy said.
        Along with their normal crews, the ships will host up to 52 Royal Marines or other troops, who can help with specific missions, "a versatility which makes the vessels '2,000-ton Swiss Army knives,'" according to the navy statement.
        The ships headed west into the Atlantic from Portsmouth to begin their deployment Tuesday. They will go through the Panama Canal to make their way to their new Pacific patrol area.
        The British warships have been painted in the World War I-style "dazzle" manner, which was meant to make the ships harder to track at the time.
        Spey and Tamar have gotten World War I-era "dazzle paint" for their Pacific mission. The paint scheme was meant to make warships harder to track a hundred years ago, at time when the British fleet was regarded as the best in the world.
        "With our paint schemes, we stand out -- we look different. We'll be flying the White Ensign together in the Indo-Pacific region. People will know that the Royal Navy is back," said Evans, Spey's commander.
        UK allies and partners around the region have already gotten a taste of the modern Royal Navy this summer with the deployment of Britain's largest warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the region.
        The UK's Carrier Strike Group 21, which also includes American and Dutch warships, left Britain in May on a seven-month deployment that has seen it go as far as South Korea, where it