Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to HMNB Portsmouth following the debut of the new UK Carrier Strike Group.
The 65,000-tonne 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 (RFA) support ships, F-35B Lightning fighter jets, Fleet Air Arm helicopters and ships from the U.S. Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy, saw the carrier achieve a number of ‘firsts’.
British and American F-35B jets carried out strike missions from the carrier using live weapons for the first time, while newly-modernised Fort-class support ship RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and Type 23 frigate HMS Kent (F78) 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.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said:
“Over the past few weeks the Royal Navy has achieved what many people said would be impossible. 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. 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 UK Carrier Strike Group consisted of Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender (D36) and HMS Diamond (D34), U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) as well as Royal Navy Type 23 frigates HMS Kent (F78) and HMS Northumberland (F238), and Dutch Navy De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805). Tide-class replenishment tanker RFA Tideforce (A139) and RFA Fort Victoria provided supplies, stories and fuel to the group.
Portsmouth-based HMS Kent operated as the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Commander during the exercise, coordinating all aspects of the underwater battle space across the Strike Group.
Her Commanding Officer, Commander Matt Sykes, said:
“GroupEx has provided a unique opportunity to enhance HMS Kent anti-submarine warfare skills, as well as consolidating our continued integration with the Carrier Strike Group. The utility of having two extremely capable Type 23 frigates working in concert, both fitted with a cutting edge suite of underwater sensors, provides a formidable defence against underwater threats and we have demonstrated that to good effect during each phase of the exercise.”
The arrival of F-35B strike fighters from U.S. Marines Corps (USMC) Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) “The Wake Island Avengers” in September marked the first time HMS Queen Elizabeth had embarked a squadron from the USMC. With jets from the UK’s 617 Squadron “The Dambusters”, together with 11 helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm, it constituted the largest Royal Navy air group in more than 30 years.