The 65,000 tonne Royal Navy aircraft carrier is at the centre of the group which is made up of a total of nine ships, 15 fighter jets, 11 helicopters and 3,000 personnel from the UK, US and the Netherlands. The strike group, which the navy has described as “the largest and most powerful European-led maritime force in almost 20 years”, has gathered for exercises in the North Sea.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “The new UK Carrier Strike Group is the embodiment of British maritime power and sits at the heart of a modernised and emboldened Royal Navy.
“Protected by a ring of advanced destroyers, frigates, helicopters and submarines, and equipped with fifth generation fighters, HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing; and with our Nato allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances.
“Carrier Strike offers Britain choice and flexibility on the global stage; it reassures our friends and allies, and presents a powerful deterrent to would-be adversaries.”
The Carrier Strike Group includes destroyers – the Royal Navy’s Type 45s HMS Diamond and HMS Defender and US Navy Arleigh Burke-class USS The Sullivans – as well as frigates HMS Northumberland and HMS Kent from the UK and the Dutch Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen.
They are tasked with protecting the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers from enemy ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles, as well as carrying out a range of support missions, from maritime security to disaster relief.
Two Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships – RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria – will also supply fuel, food, spares and ammunition, to enable sustained operations at sea.
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Commander Vince Owen, Commanding Officer of HMS Defender, said: “Providing air and missile defence to a Carrier Strike Group is exactly the task HMS Defender and the Type 45 has been designed to do.
“Having previously supported the French aircraft carrier FGS Charles de Gaulle in the fight against ISIL in 2015 and more recently been part of the USS Abraham Lincoln task group as she transited through the Strait of Hormuz last year, it is exciting to be integrating HMS Defender into the UK-led Carrier Strike Group for the first time.
“Having just successfully completed a period of Basic Operational Sea Training over the summer, the men and women that make up my ship’s company are motivated and ready to take part in the next stage of our training in preparation for deploying with the Carrier Strike Group next year.”
Two squadrons of F-35B aircraft embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth last month – the largest group of aircraft on a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes was in service.
The aircraft carrier, which cost more than £3bn, is expected to deploy on operations for the first time in 2021.
Her deployment from Portsmouth to form the Carrier Strike Group was delayed last month following cases of coronavirus among her crew.