Sea vessels

HMS Queen Elizabeth Sets Sail As Flagship For First Time

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail as the service's flagship for the first time. 

The £3bn vessel departed from Portsmouth Naval Base on Monday for planned trials and training ahead of her first operational deployment this spring with her Carrier Strike Group.

The group is expected to begin its deployment in May and will patrol the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia-Pacific region.

The carrier will embark F-35B jets from 617 Squadron and Royal Navy Merlin helicopters, and will be escorted and supported by Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates and support ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and its F-35B Lightning jets will also be complemented by a detachment of stealth fighters from the US Marine Corps as well as a US Navy destroyer during the deployment.

The carrier and its Strike Group will first take part in a war-fighting exercise with other NATO navies during Exercise Strike Warrior off Scotland in May before it departs for the Mediterranean.

In January, First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, promised the ship's first operational deployment would be one of the most ambitious seen in some time.

WATCH: Families of the carrier's crew speak about their pride in waving loved ones off, as the vessel set sail.

He said: "In the coming months HMS Queen Elizabeth will lead the most ambitious Royal Navy deployment in decades.

"She will be a focal point as we look forward to an extraordinary year."

Last month, following talks with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Japan welcomed the decision to send the carrier to the Indo-Pacific region amid growing tensions with China over navigation rights.

HMS Queen Elizabeth became the new fleet flagship in January, taking over duties from HMS Albion.

The vessel is expected to return to Portsmouth Naval Base by the end of the month.

The ship formed a UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time in October last year while exercising alongside allied nations in the North Sea as part of NATO's Exercise Joint Warrior.

Both Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, require escorts in the form of Carrier Strike Groups when they deploy on operational duties.