UK Carrier Strike Group 2021: Who's Joining HMS Queen Elizabeth On Deployment?

The UK's Carrier Strike Group, spearheaded by aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, has embarked on its maiden deployment on Saturday evening, as the Royal Navy's flagship left Portsmouth.

It was declared ready for operations in January and will travel more than 26,000 nautical miles from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, and from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea, and more.

HMS Queen Elizabeth had been expected to complete her pre-deployment preparations at anchor in the Solent following Exercise Strike Warrior, but poor weather forecasts mean this was done alongside at Portsmouth Naval Base instead.

During the 28-week deployment, the group will visit India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore and the wider region, becoming the largest concentration of maritime and airpower to leave the UK in a generation.

Offshore Patrol vessels HMS Tamar and Spey, the newest warships in the fleet, will meet up with the Carrier Strike Group in the Indo-Pacific region, after having crossed the Atlantic Ocean westwards transiting the Panama Canal.

Meanwhile, units from the group will visit more than 40 countries and undertake in excess of 70 engagements, including sailing alongside the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in the Mediterranean.

But which hardware and personnel will make up the UK's Carrier Strike Group?

Hardware and personnel

A number of sea vessels have deployed, including HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy's fleet flagship, which is leading it.

The £3.2bn, 65,000-tonne ship sailed alongside four Royal Navy ships – Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Diamond, plus Type 23 frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond. 

HMS Defender recently began intensive training ahead of the group's spring deployment.

A Royal Navy Astute-class submarine will also be deployed in support.

While the Carrier Strike Group has a British core, two NATO allies are supporting the deployment.

American destroyer USS The Sullivans and Dutch ship HNLMS Evertsen also make up the formation.

The task group is supported by two ships from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

UK Carrier Strike Group lineup
F-35 Lightning jets from both the UK and US will be deployed as part of the Carrier Strike Group (Picture: Royal Navy).

Tankers RFA Tidespring and RFA Fort Victoria will help replenish the other vessels with supplies, equipment, fuel and food. 

Aircraft from several squadrons are also helping make up the Carrier Strike Group.

These include eight UK F-35B Lightning jets flown by the RAF's 617 Squadron, plus 10 aircraft from the US Marine Corps' VMFA-211 Squadron.

Wildcats, the latest generation of multi-role helicopters, are being flown by 815 Naval Air Squadron as part of the formation.

820 Naval Air Squadron, a dedicated helicopter squadron for HMS Queen Elizabeth, bring their Merlin Mk2s to the deployment, with 845 Naval Air Squadron, part of the Commando Helicopter Force, also joining with their Merlin Mk4s.

845 Naval Air Squadron supports 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines with hoists, load-carrying and passenger capacity, and can land almost anywhere and work from ships.

Overall, the flight deck of the aircraft carrier is hosting both British and American F-35B Lightning jets, four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and airborne early-warning helicopters and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters.

In total, 3,700 personnel are a part of the Carrier Strike Group, including personnel from 42 Commando, Royal Marines.

Combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords in the South China Sea
The most militarily symbolic leg of the Carrier Strike Group's deployment will begin in the South China Sea. Here, a US combat ship is pictured in the waters (Picture: US Department of Defense).

The route

The UK Carrier Strike Group began with two weeks on Exercise Joint Warrior off the coast of Scotland.

They are now sailing south through the Atlantic Ocean, stopping off in Gibraltar, before heading to the Mediterranean, where a dual aircraft carrier operation will be carried out with French vessel Charles de Gaulle.

The Carrier Strike Group will then travel through the Suez Canal and Red Sea and into the Arabian Sea, where there are port facilities specifically for HMS Queen Elizabeth at Duqm in Oman.

Heading down into the Indian Ocean, there will then be a visit to India and exercises with the country's navy, before sailing to Singapore, with Exercise Bersama Lima being held with Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

HMS Queen Elizabeth's formation will then journey through the South China Sea, waters which China claims more of than is internationally recognised.

Following that will be visits to Japan and South Korea.

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