The Royal Navy carrier strike group (CSG) headed by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has achieved initial operational capability in a major milestone ahead of the group’s maiden deployment later this year.
Initial operating capability means all elements of the group from fighter jets to radar systems to anti-ship weapons have been successfully brought together and operated. It also means that qualified pilots and ground crews are ready for carrier-based operations at short notice.
Another marker of success at this stage includes the ability to deploy anti-submarine warfare capabilities such as frigates and destroyers, as well as both fixed and rotary wing aircraft including Merlin helicopters to operate alongside the carrier.
The IOC has been facilitated by the NATO Joint Warrior exercises last autumn, when the CSG assembled for the first time. The multinational deployment in 2020 focused on incorporating all elements of the CSG with 13 of the UK’s allies including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, Japan, UAE and the US. Exercise Joint Warrior saw the largest number of aircraft on a British Royal Navy carrier since 1983.
“This is a hugely significant milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and the whole country. This achievement is a testament to the determination of our service personnel and industry workforce who have delivered this first-rate military capability, a capability held by only a handful of nations,” UK defense minister Jeremy Quin said.
Full operating capability for the CSG is expected by December 2023.
During its first operational deployment, HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to sail to the Indian Ocean and East Asia. The group will also visit Japan where the UK plans to carry out maintenance work on its F-35B short take-off and vertical landing fighter jets that operate from the aircraft carrier. This work would be carried out by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.