What Makes Up A Carrier Strike Group?

Recently declared operational, HMS Queen Elizabeth has a Carrier Strike Group to escort her – but what does this include?

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 for planned trials and training ahead of her first operational deployment this spring with her Carrier Strike Group.

The formation, which has already been declared ready for operations, will be supported by American military personnel and hardware during the deployment.

The Strike Group, spearheaded by the Royal Navy's new fleet flagshipHMS Queen Elizabeth, has achieved Initial Operating Capability, meaning all elements, from fighter jets to radar and anti-ship weapons, have been successfully brought together and operated.

HMS Queen Elizabeth formed a UK Carrier Strike Group for the first time in October last year as part of exercises in the North Sea.

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.

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.

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.

Astute-Class submarines can use advanced sensors to generate a clear picture of the environment surrounding the force, feeding intelligence through to other vessels from beneath the surface.

For her 2021 deployment, Queen Elizabeth will embark F-35Bs from 617 Squadron and Royal Navy Merlin helicopters.

The carrier will be escorted by Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships.

The Carrier Strike Group can cover 500 nautical miles in just one day and is capable of tracking up to 1,000 targets from 400km away.

Alongside these other vessels, the aircraft carrier 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.

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).

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.

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

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 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.

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).