Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sails from Portsmouth for her autumn deployment.

Britain’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth sails this week from Portsmouth as she heads north to lead a Carrier Strike Group deployment alongside ships from partner nations.

The aircraft carrier, crewed by up to 900 sailors, with her F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters and Merlin helicopters will lead a mixed group of warships from various nations as they head to the Norwegian Sea and waters of northern Europe.

The UK Carrier Strike Group deployment comes just days after HMS Prince of Wales departed Portsmouth for the United States, where she will undergo trials and operate a multitude of aircraft and drones.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said:

The UK leadership of this international strike group shows the strength of our commitment to working with Allies to promote security in Europe and demonstrate our resolve against any threat from potential adversaries.

With both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales deployed simultaneously, the Royal Navy sends a strong message that the UK’s capability for carrier operations is among the strongest in the world.

The first phase of the deployment will see the carrier’s F35 fighter jets taking part in Exercise Cobra Warrior, the RAF’s largest bi-annual exercise, which will see aircraft from the Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Norway, and the UK taking part in joint exercises.

The 18-day exercise will involve RAF Typhoon and F35 jets, A400M and C17 transport aircraft, and Voyager air tankers, developing interoperability alongside allied aircraft and practicing integration between fourth and fifth generation fighter aircraft across air, sea, and land.

Commodore James Blackmore, Commander of the Carrier Strike Group, said:

It is with much eagerness that the UK Carrier Strike Group is now assembling for deployed operations – the first time the UK CSG will be under my command. This autumn’s deployment showcases the UK’s capability to operate at range from the UK and demonstrates our continued commitment to North Atlantic security.

The Carrier Strike Group is an agile and highly capable force and we are excited to be heading to the North Sea and North Atlantic along with our International Partner Nations to reinforce security across the region.

The following phases involve HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Carrier Strike Group conducting activities alongside international partners, including through the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) framework – highlighting the utility and strength of JEF.

A series of sorties will also be carried out by 617 Squadron – the Dambusters, the joint RAF-RN Lightning stealth fighter formation from RAF Marham – and the strike group will take part in various port visits and defence engagement events.

Captain Will King, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer, said:

It is an extraordinary privilege to have command of one of the Royal Navy’s most capable ships and to lead a dedicated and highly skilled crew on operations.

As we sail to the north leading a coalition of nations in our unwavering commitment to peace and security in Northern Europe, we stand together as a formidable force for stability in these waters.

The 65,000-tonne carrier and her Strike Group will also join NATO allies for exercises and training in the North Atlantic.

The deployment will mark the second time the Royal Navy flagship has led an international carrier strike group, after her deployment to the Indo-Pacific in 2021.

HMS Prince of Wales will lead a further Carrier Strike Group deployment to the Indo-Pacific in 2025, further strengthening the UK’s defence ties in the region.

Published 9 September 2023