Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail from Portsmouth as the UK carrier strike group prepares to join allied forces for its largest and most demanding exercise to date.
Joining the carrier on May 1 were destroyers HMS Defender, and HMS Diamond and frigate HMS Kent. HMS Richmond, another frigate, will join the group from Plymouth. Meanwhile Wildcat helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron have departed their base in Yeovilton to join the exercise.
It is worth noting that the second aircraft carrier in the class, HMS Prince of Wales, is also underway, having departed Portsmouth on April 30 for post-refit trials.
Exercise Strike Warrior will involve more than 20 warships, three submarines and 150 aircraft from 11 nations and is a final test for the carrier strike group ahead of its first operational deployment to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific.
The exercise, which will run for two weeks, will see the task group pitted against warships from NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 1 in waters off north-west Scotland to prove it is capable of undertaking high intensity operations against the most demanding adversaries.
The culmination of Strike Warrior will see the carrier strike group certified ready for deployment, at which point operational command will pass from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, to the Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander UK carrier strike group, said: “The advent of the UK carrier strike group represents a substantial new injection of fifth generation combat power into the defense of the Euro-Atlantic region.
“It is therefore fitting that our final and most demanding test prior to deployment involves so many of Britain’s allies.
In the next few days HMS Queen Elizabeth will once again embark 5th Generation fighters, comprising of 18 F-35 Lightning jets drawn from the UK’s 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, and VMFA-211 of the US Marine Corps, better known as the Wake Island Avengers.
The deployment of F-35B jets with HMS Queen Elizabeth will represent the largest 5th-generation carrier air wing in the world to date.
Additionally, the carrier air wing will also include the largest concentration of helicopters in a Royal Navy task group in a decade, with three Merlin Mk4 from 845 NAS, four Wildcat from 815 NAS and seven Merlin Mk2 from 820 NAS.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will be accompanied by destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Defender, frigates HMS Richmond and HMS Kent and US Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans, which will form a ring of steel around the 65,000-tonne carrier.
Meanwhile, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring will keep the group supplied with fuel, food, stores and ammunition.
Joining the UK CSG for the first time is Devonport-based frigate HMS Richmond. Her commanding officer, Commander Hugh Botterill, said: “It is hugely exciting for HMS Richmond to be deploying with the UK Carrier Strike Group.
“Having spent two busy years bringing the Royal Navy’s new diesel propulsion and controls system into service, HMS Richmond is one of the most up-to-date anti-submarine frigates in the fleet. Our proven weapons and sensors, operated by a team of highly skilled men and women, represent a potent defence against underwater threats.
“But we are also looking forward to working with the Royal Navy’s friends and allies to help strengthen Britain’s international partnerships as part of this historic deployment.”
Strike Warrior is the third and last in a series of pre-deployment exercises undertaken by the UK CSG over the past year, each more demanding and complex than the last.
It takes place concurrently with NATO’s largest biannual maritime exercise, Joint Warrior, predominantly in the north west of Scotland, which sees the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and British Army joined by forces from NATO and Australia for a series of realistic operational scenarios spanning sea, air, land and cyber and space.
Colonel Simon Doran USMC, the US senior representative to the UK CSG, said: “Strike Warrior represents the final opportunity for the US marines, sailors and coast guardsmen to refine years of planning and training.
“We will validate our synergy with the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and other NATO allies. Through this interoperability, we will demonstrate the carrier power projection capabilities of the UK carrier strike group.”