UK Carrier Strike Group begins global deployment

A UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG) – comprising of the largest fleet of Royal Navy warships to deploy internationally since the 1982 Falklands War – set sail from Portsmouth harbour in the UK on May 1, 2021, to join allied naval forces participating in Exercise Strike Warrior as well as to visit 40 nations.

Exercise Strike Warrior will run for two weeks and involve more than 20 surface warships, three submarines and 150 aircraft from 11 nations.

High-intensity ops

The exercise will see the Royal Navy task group joining warships from NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 1 in waters off north-west Scotland to practise undertaking high-intensity operations against the most demanding naval and air adversaries.

Strike Warrior also takes place concurrently with NATO’s largest biannual maritime exercise, Joint Warrior, and will see 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, cyber and space.

Royal Navy
AgustaWestland Wildcats from the Yeovilton-based 815 Naval Air Squadron depart to join the UK CSG. Credit: Royal Navy

Exercise Strike Warrior is the Royal Navy’s largest and most demanding exercise to date and is a final test for the UK CSG, ahead of its first global operational deployment to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific.

Exercise 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.

Royal Navy flagship

The UK CSG is led by HMS Queen Elizabeth – the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the flagship of the Royal Navy. The 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier is capable of carrying 60 warplanes, including fixed wing, rotary wing and autonomous craft.

Undertaking her maiden deployment, HMS Queen Elizabeth is joined by UK destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, UK anti-submarine frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond, US Navy Arleigh Burke destroyer USS The Sullivans, Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen, and an Astute-class submarine – all forming a virtual ring of steel around the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Royal Marines from 42 Commando have also deployed with HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Royal Navy
Two F-35B Lightning fighters on board the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Credit: Royal Navy

Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring are keeping the UK CSG supplied with fuel, food, stores and ammunition.

AgustaWestland Wildcat helicopters from the Royal Navy’s 815 Naval Air Squadron have also departed their base in Yeovilton, Somerset, to join the UK CSG.

Global readiness

The culmination of Exercise Strike Warrior will see the UK CSG 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 defence 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.

Royal Navy
The UK Carrier Strike Group will visit 40 countries. Credit: Royal Navy

“As the ships and aircraft of the [UK] Carrier Strike Group assemble over the coming days, Exercise Strike Warrior is an opportunity to prove to ourselves, and to the world, that we have what it takes to act as cohesive and potent fighting force at sea, under the water, in the air and over the land,” Moorhouse added.

In the next few days HMS Queen Elizabeth will unveil its fleet of fifth-generation fighter aircraft, 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.

Heli record

The Carrier Air Wing also includes the largest concentration of helicopters in a Royal Navy task group in a decade, with three Merlin Mk4s from 845 NAS (Naval Air Squadron), four Wildcats from 815 NAS and seven Merlin Mk2s from 820 NAS.

The UK CSG will visit 40 nations including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore in a deployment covering 26,000 nautical miles and will undertake over 70 engagements, visits, air exercises and operations.

Royal Navy
The UK CSG comprises of the largest fleet of Royal Navy warships to deploy internationally since the 1982 Falklands War. Credit: Royal Navy

The UK CSG will also join up and take part in exercises with French aircraft carrier FS Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean, as well as navies and aircraft from UK allies, including the US, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan and the UAE.

While in the Pacific theatre, the UK CSG will mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements between Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK by taking part in Exercise Bersama Lima.

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