UK flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth sails to participate in ‘historic’ NATO mission
UK flagship, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed on Sunday to lead an international task group for an historic NATO exercise, the largest in Europe since the Cold War, according to the Royal Navy.
The aircraft carrier will participate in exercises involving the alliance forces, building up to Steadfast Defender – involving more than 20,000 UK military personnel alone deployed across Scandinavia and northern Europe.
HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead a carrier strike group of eight ships, four of them British, including frigate HMS Somerset and two Tide-class tankers from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. They will be supported by US, Spanish and Danish vessels.
This allied fleet of 40 vessels, drawn from more than two dozen nations, is committed to the seagoing element of Steadfast Defender, which will take place off Norway’s Arctic coast in March.
Britain’s flagship will test capabilities of F-35B Lightning stealth fighters from 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron at RAF Marham, submarine hunting and airborne early warning Merlin Mk2 helicopters from RNAS Culdrose, and battlefield Wildcat helicopters of 847 Naval Air Squadron from RNAS Yeovilton.
Before heading for Norwegian waters and the High North, the Carrier Strike Group will hone its collective skills in northern Scotland courtesy of the UK’s regular Joint Warrior exercise.
From there the force moves to the High North and Exercise Nordic Response (the maritime element of Steadfast Defender) with the emphasis on protecting northern Norway, Sweden and Finland to defend the Nordic nations from ‘attack’.
“The exercise allows us to train with our neighbours in a truly challenging environment, especially at this time of year – but that is why we have to operate up there; the weather cannot put us off,” Commodore James Blackmore, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group said.