The Royal Navy’s new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), departed from Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth, Hampshire, on May 1 for a final test of its Carrier Strike Group (CSG), before continuing with the commencement of its historic maiden deployment.
The CSG will initially participate in the two week-long Exercise Strike Warrior off the coast of northwest Scotland, which will involve more than 20 warships, three submarines and 150 aircraft from 11 nations. The culmination of Strike Warrior will see the CSG certified as 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.
As part of this CSG, eight Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters from the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) famous No 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ have embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth. These aircraft have been joined by ten F-35Bs from the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) ‘Wake Island Avengers’. With 18 F-35Bs on board the aircraft carrier in total, this deployment marks the largest at-sea deployment for the fighter to date.
Following Exercise Strike Warrior, the CSG will make its first operational deployment under Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), which will last for 28 weeks and will see the force operate in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region. Led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, the task group will visit 40 nations, including India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. In doing so, the CSG will cover 26,000 nautical miles and undertake in excess of 70 engagements, visits, air exercises and operations.
The group will also join up and take part in exercises with the French aircraft carrier, FS Charles de Gaulle (R91) in the Mediterranean, as well as with the aircraft and navies of allies, such as Canada, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the US. While in the Indo-Pacific region, ships from this CSG will take part in Exercise Bersama Lima.
On May 3, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) also confirmed that UK F-35Bs operating from the carrier will join Operation Shader, carrying out counter-Islamic State (ISIS)/Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.
The aircraft to have embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth are as follows: