HMS Queen Elizabeth Returns to Portsmouth Following Strike Group Debut
(Source: Royal Navy; issued Oct 15, 2020)
The Royal Navy carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth returns to Portsmouth with Royal Air Force and Marine Corps F-35 fighters and Merlin helicopters on her flight deck at the conclusion of the first exercise of the new Strike Group. (RN photo)
HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to Portsmouth following the debut of the new Carrier Strike Group which will represent Britain on the global stage for the next fifty years.

The 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 support ships, F-35B Lightning jets, Fleet Air Arm helicopters and ships from the US Navy and Dutch Navy, saw the 65,000-tonne carrier achieve a number of ‘firsts’.

British and American jets carried out strike missions from the carrier using live weapons for the first time, while newly-modernised support ship RFA Fort Victoria and HMS Kent 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.

“But be in no doubt: twenty years of ambition has been realised, and the UK Carrier Strike Group is now a reality,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group.

“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 Carrier Strike Group consisted of destroyers HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and USS The Sullivans as well as frigates HMS Kent, HMS Northumberland and HNLMS Evertsen. RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria provided supplies, stories and fuel to the group.

Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate HMS Kent operated as the Anti-Submarine Warfare 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 VMFA-211 in September marked the first time HMS Queen Elizabeth had embarked a squadron from the US Marine Corps.

With jets from the UK’s 617 Squadron, together with 11 helicopters from the Fleet Air Arm, it constituted the largest Royal Navy air group in more than 30 years.

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Team Portsmouth Effort Puts Destroyers in UK Strike Groups
(Source: Royal Navy; issued Oct 17, 2020)
HMS Defender arrives home to HM Naval Base Portsmouth today having exercised with HMS Queen Elizabeth and her multinational strike group honing UK aircraft carrier operations.

She is one of three Type 45 destroyers to have been drilling their core skills as peerless air-defence escorts at a time the Royal Navy has deployed two strike groups to the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Defender’s sisters, HMS Diamond and Dragon remain at sea; Diamond moving onto several weeks of operational sea training having been with Defender off Scotland, and Dragon is in the Black Sea having accompanied Royal Navy flagship HMS Albion through the Mediterranean, testing the new littoral strike group concept.

Putting the three destroyers to sea for escort duties, as well as frigate HMS Kent and HMS Queen Elizabeth, has been a notable success for everyone working at the base at a time when Covid-restrictions were disrupting regular activity.

Defender returned to the UK just days before the lockdown began in March, following a hectic deployment to the Gulf, while Diamond and Dragon both emerged from maintenance periods during the pandemic. All the deployments were only possible with uniformed personnel, civil servants and industry melding together to sustain a high-performing naval base; providing the maintenance, security, tug assistance, harbour control and logistics to keep warships on the move despite the many challenges the nation faced.

“Following a rewarding high-tempo seven and a half month operational deployment to the Middle East, it was a challenging time for the Ship’s Company to find the UK in lockdown when we returned in March, particularly as it meant that in many cases some of our sailors weren’t able to see their family and friends for close to a year. The Ship’s Company, in partnership with BAE, soon set about the task of completing the necessary post-deployment maintenance to get HMS Defender back to sea,” said Commanding Officer of HMS Defender, Commander Vince Owen.

Despite working in the close confines of a warship during the epidemic, this maintenance work was still completed on time by adapting procedures and following Public Health England and MOD Covid guidelines, including maintaining cleanliness and introducing social distancing measures onboard.

Cdr Owen added: “This enabled both the Ship’s Company and contractors to remain safe whilst achieving everything that needed to be completed in order to allow HMS Defender to sail on time for a trials period in June, followed by a six-week Basic Operational Sea Training package.

“Following Summer leave and a new paint job it’s great to have been back at sea continuing our training by integrating into the UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time in preparation for next year’s exciting deployment.”

Jon Pearson, Warship Support Director for BAE Systems in Portsmouth, said: “It’s been a challenging few months for us supporting Royal Navy operations in Portsmouth Naval Base. However, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, BAE Systems teams have continued to work hard to ensure the availability of the surface fleet. This includes preparing four warships to take part in the carrier strike autumn group exercise.

“I’m particularly proud of all the teams who have now helped get three of the Royal Navy’s most complex warships, HMS Defender, HMS Dragon and HMS Diamond, out to sea. Their dedication and expertise ensures that these key ships continue to serve and represent the nation in key operations.”

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