Navy

What makes up a Carrier Strike Group?

HMS Queen Elizabeth is leading UK Carrier Strike Group 2021 – but what does this include?

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is deployed on Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21).

The £3.2bn ship is leading the UK Carrier Strike Group – the Royal Navy's largest deployment in more than a decade.

The vessel and her Carrier Strike Group have headed south, through the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean - stopping off in Cyprus - before sailing through the Suez Canal. 

The group is visiting more than a fifth of the world's nations over 28 weeks.

It is the aircraft carrier's maiden operational deployment and she is hosting 1,700 personnel, 250 of them from the US.

Sailing alongside HMS Queen Elizabeth are six frigates and destroyers, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, an Astute-class submarine, 18 F-35 fighter jets and 14 naval helicopters.

What forms a Carrier Strike Group?

Protecting an aircraft carrier is a big task.

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 to other vessels from beneath the surface.

For her 2021 deployment, HMS Queen Elizabeth has F-35Bs and Royal Navy Merlin helicopters embarked.

The carrier is being escorted by Royal Navy Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships and, in the longer term, Type 26 frigates.

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

The aircraft carrier also needs a replenishment ship, provided by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

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

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 while she was 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 can be deployed with up to two operational Lightning squadrons and 24 F-35Bs on board, although the maximum capacity allows for 36.

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

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).