The Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has returned to Portsmouth following the debut of the new Carrier Strike Group which will represent Britain on the global stage for the next fifty years.
The 2017-commissioned aircraft carrier has been training in the North Sea as part of Group Exercise 2020 as she prepares for her first operational deployment next year.
Her time at sea, joined by Royal Navy warships, Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, F-35B Lightning jets, Fleet Air Arm helicopters and ships from the US Navy and Dutch Navy, saw the 65,000-tonne carrier achieve a number of ‘firsts’.
British and American jets carried out strike missions from the carrier using live weapons for the first time, while newly-modernised support ship RFA Fort Victoria and HMS Kent undertook the Royal Navy’s first transfer of ammunition at sea in three years.
GroupEx 2020 was followed by Exercise Joint Warrior, in which the Carrier Strike Group joined other NATO warships for a series of demanding scenarios across air, land and sea.
“Over the past few weeks the Royal Navy has achieved what many people said would be impossible,” Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said.
“We have formed a sovereign UK Carrier Strike Group with the ships and aircraft necessary to protect and sustain global carrier operations. Crucially, the Royal Navy has done this against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic and while maintaining our other commitments at home and around the world.”
“We’ve also gone a step further by operating and integrating a mixed UK/US air group of strike fighters and by incorporating ships from our closest allies,” he added.
“There is still much to be done as we continue to prepare for our first operational deployment next year. But be in no doubt: twenty years of ambition has been realised, and the UK Carrier Strike Group is now a reality.”
The Carrier Strike Group consisted of destroyers HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and USS The Sullivans as well as frigates HMS Kent, HMS Northumberland and HNLMS Evertsen. RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria provided supplies, stories and fuel to the group.
Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate HMS Kent operated as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Commander during the exercise, coordinating all aspects of the underwater battle space across the Strike Group.
The arrival of F-35B strike fighters from VMFA-211 in September marked the first time HMS Queen Elizabeth had embarked a squadron from the US Marine Corps.
With jets from the UK’s 617 Squadron, together with 11 helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm, it constituted the largest Royal Navy air group in more than 30 years.