HMS Prince of Wales has taken her place at the centre of one of the most powerful naval task forces in the world – at the start of the largest Arctic exercise for 30 years.
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier, currently serving as NATO's command ship, has sailed north to the Arctic for Exercise Cold Response 2022 – a month-long test of allied forces that will see 30,000 troops from 27 nations operate together.
Planning for the regular exercise takes place every other year and began in December 2020, it is now expected to involve more than twice as many personnel as the 14,000 planned for in 2020.
During the weekend, a task force of 25 ships from 11 nations gathered close to Norway at the start of the training, including six Royal Navy ships and more than 2,000 UK military personnel.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "The Arctic is becoming an area of increasing military competition and the security of the region is directly linked to our national security.
"Exercise Cold Response is a demonstration of NATO's ability to both operate and compete in one of the harshest environments in the world and is a demonstration of how a multinational force would defend Europe's northern flank."
The Royal Navy formally assumed command of the maritime part of the NATO Response Force during a ceremony on board HMS Prince of Wales at the start of the year.
Commander UK Strike Force embarked on HMS Prince of Wales is responsible for leading NATO's Maritime High Readiness Force – an international task group formed to deal with major global events – and deploys for the first time in that role to Cold Response.
Watch: HMS Prince of Wales leaves HMNB Portsmouth for NATO duties.
The £3.1bn vessel set sail from Portsmouth naval base to begin the 12-month deployment leading the NATO international task group back in January.
Alongside landing support ship RFA Mounts Bay, HMS Albion leads the UK's amphibious input into Cold Response, with "a significant level" of littoral strike operations – traditional-style commando raids – staged in the fjords, with the British force integrating with numerous allies.
About 900 Royal Marines have been deployed to the Arctic since January in preparation for the exercises, sharpening their expertise in operating in freezing conditions.
Sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail from Portsmouth earlier in the month in what is understood to be F-35 training.
The Royal Navy fleet flagship will be carrying out vital training and exercises in the waters close to the UK to keep her ready for operations anywhere in the world.