What Makes Up A Carrier Strike Group?

Once HMS Queen Elizabeth becomes fully operational she will need a Carrier Strike Group to escort her – but what will this include?

HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to base after forming a UK-led Carrier Strike Group for the first time.

The Strike Group was assembled in the North Sea as part of NATO's largest annual exercise, Joint Warrior.

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

What Forms A Carrier Strike Group?

Protecting an aircraft carrier is a large-scale task.

On Exercise Joint Warrior, the Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth is made up of nine ships, dozens of aircraft and 3,000 personnel from the UK, United States and the Netherlands.

Carrier Strike Groups escort in the form of Type 23 frigates, which have anti-submarine capabilities, and Type 45 destroyers with sophisticated air defence systems.

Submarines provide vital protection beneath the surface.

1990s carrier strike group
Carrier HMS Ark Royal in the 1990s surrounded by an RFA fleet tanker, the Sandown-class minehunter, HMS Cromer and carrier escort ship HMS Gloucester.

A Carrier Strike Group will also need a replenishment ship, provided by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

This would contain all weaponry needs, as well as food for the sailors.

RFA Tideforce was part of the Carrier Strike Group on Westlant 19 in Canada last year. 

In 2018, RFA Fort Rosalie delivered vital supplies to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Gulf.

Fort Rosalie transferred 96 pallets of stores to the Roosevelt as part of her tasking with the aircraft carrier's strike group.

British personnel from RFA Fort Rosalie joined the US strike group in the Gulf.

They used the trip to see first hand how operations are conducted aboard a US vessel, ahead of the RFA supporting the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

USS Theodore Roosevelt in the South China sea (Credit: DVIDS)
A US Carrier Strike Group supporting and protecting the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea (Picture: US Department of Defense).

The Royal Navy's new generation of aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, cost more than £3 billion each.

The Queen Elizabeth-class ships will call on other vessels to support them, although it is unlikely both carriers will be deployed on operations simultanously.

Each aircraft carrier will be deployed with up to two operational Lightning squadrons and 24 F-35Bs on board, although the maximum capacity allows for up to 36.

HMS Queen Elizabeth during Exercise Joint Warrior surrounded by other vessels as Carrier Strike Group forms 051020 CREDIT ROYAL NAVY
HMS Queen Elizabeth leads a UK Carrier Strike Group during Exercise Joint Warrior (Picture: Royal Navy).

Each squadron will consist of around 12 aircraft, although for the majority of the time there could be as a few as 10 jets on board at once.

Each Carrier Strike Group will likely include Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, an Astute-class submarine and, in the longer term, Type 26 frigates.

More: What Is It Like On Board HMS Queen Elizabeth?

Cover image: HMS Kent and HMS Queen Elizabeth together during training at sea (Picture: Royal Navy).