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. Warships HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and HMS Kent also sailed from the city while HMS Richmond is due to sail from Plymouth. Meanwhile Wildcat helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron have departed their base in Yeovilton to join the exercise. 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.
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. As the ships and aircraft of the Carrier Strike Group assemble over the coming days, Exercise Strike Warrior is an opportunity 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.
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.
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 Carrier Air Wing also includes 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.
Strike Warrior is the third and last in a series of pre-deployment exercises undertaken by the Carrier Strike Group 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. Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring will keep the Strike Group supplied with fuel, food, stores and ammunition. Joining the UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time is Devonport-based frigate HMS Richmond.