On Board HMS Queen Elizabeth After 'Strong Message' Sent In Eastern Mediterranean

HMS Queen Elizabeth has docked in Cyprus, welcoming Forces News on board after the ship's first major test on Carrier Strike Group deployment.

The carrier has been leading from the centre, escorted by an entourage of Navy and allied vessels, ramping up efforts to defeat the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

For the past two weeks, F-35 fast jets embarked upon the carrier have conducted 90 sorties as part of Operation Shader.

"During the two-week period we’ve been here we've been contributing over 50% of the combat air with F-35 to the overarching mission that is Operation Inherent Resolve and our part of it, which is Operation Shader," said Captain James Blackmore, HMS Queen Elizabeth Air Wing Commander.

He added that the force has more than "doubled" its contribution to the combat air aspect of the coalition's mission, as part of "surge operations".

Aside from Operation Shader, the Carrier Strike deployment was drawn into the spotlight when HMS Defender, a Type 45 Destroyer, temporarily peeled away from the task group and into the Black Sea.

In June, the Ministry of Defence denied Russian claims it had fired warning shots at the vessel after it entered the country's territorial waters.

Watch: What is a Carrier Strike Group?

Captain Angus Essenhigh, Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, said: "The Eastern Mediterranean is obviously populated by a number of navies.

"We've been working with the French, we've been working with the Italians. This is a modern, super-relevant capability that lots of people will want to come and have a look at.

"So we can imagine that, as we keep progressing towards the East, other navies will want to come and have a look at us as well –  but that's fully expected and within normal patterns of life."

Speaking on board the carrier, Stephen Lillie, British High Commissioner to Cyprus, believes the presence of the Carrier Strike Group resembles a desire for "stable" Eastern Mediterranean, a contested region hosting Cyprus and its British bases.

Before the task group heads to the Suez Canal and the Far East, Major General Rob Thomson, Commander British Forces Cyprus, stressed the importance of the Dutch and American allies joining the Carrier Strike formation.

"It's indelibly joined, it's allied by design, it's international by design. We've worked alongside our Cypriot partners and that is a strong message to anybody who wants to damage the security of this region," he said.