A powerhouse naval force of warships, aircraft, sailors and marines from the UK, the Netherlands, United States and Japan converged for milestone exercises in the Pacific Ocean. The UK Carrier Strike Group’s warships led by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth worked with the USS America-led United States Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and two ships from Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force to prove the ability of the three navies to operate effectively together. Several US Navy sailors joined HMS Queen Elizabeth at the start of the training – which was part of US-led exercises known as Large Scale Global Exercise 21 – to get a taste of life on the fleet flagship, while Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender temporarily came under the command of the American task group.
An F-35B Lightning jet from the British carrier also landed on USS America as UK and US squadrons from both ships worked closely together, while helicopters from around the task group learnt to operate seamlessly with ships from allied nations. These exercises mark a significant moment in the Royal Navy’s increasing presence in and focus on the Indo-Pacific – patrol ships HMS Tamar and HMS Spey are also due to deploy to the region soon on a long-term mission. It is also a big moment in the UK Carrier Strike Group’s seven-month global deployment. The collective 12-day workout closed with the allied ships sailing in formation in a demonstration of naval might in the Philippine Sea. HMS Queen Elizabeth took up the lead position flanked by Japanese Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Ise and amphibious assault ship USS America.
Frigates and destroyers of the UK Carrier Strike Group, HMS Defender, HMS Kent, USS The Sullivans and Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen, followed closely behind with Japanese destroyer JS Asahi and ship USS New Orleans. The ships then bade each other farewell, with sailors from HMS Queen Elizabeth lining the carrier’s upper deck and giving a ‘three cheers for the Japanese ship JS Ise’ as they sailed past. US personnel had joined HMS Queen Elizabeth two weeks’ earlier in Guam and as the ships reunited for the exercises, Merlin helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron flew to USS America to return the American sailors as part of flight operations between the ships.
Defender was tasked with providing air and missile defence to the USS America and her task group during her time under US command, while the destroyer was also on standby to recover aircrew in the event of an incident during take-off or landing; a role known as “Plane Guard”. During this phase, an F-35B from Queen Elizabeth landed on USS America to load ordnance, refuel and continue on its strike mission, while Defender received supplies and stores from USS America – believed to be the first time a British warship has carried out a Replenishment at Sea with a US amphibious ship. The embarked Royal Marines boarding team from Kilo Company 42 Commando carried out a 9mm pistol live firing, before they fired an array of weaponry from the ship’s Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron.