After just over two weeks of conducting missions against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the ships of the Carrier Strike group dispersed to ports in the eastern Mediterranean for a series of visits.
Aircraft from HMS Queen Elizabeth flew around 90 sorties against Daesh, providing about 50% of the air assets allocated to the coalition operation Inherent Resolve for that period. The UK contribution to Inherent Resolve is Operation Shader, details are not public but it is likely the majority of sorties did not involve the release of weapons and were overwatch and reconnaissance missions. Fresh from this modest demonstration of the Carrier Group’s ‘hard power’ capabilities, it was time to change role and support UK ‘soft power’ projection.
One of the four main aims of the CSG deployment, (Operation Fortis) is described officially as to: “reinforce existing UK international relationships and networks and strengthen links with NATO’s partners around the world. Establish new links with a broader audience, furthering defence engagement, political and prosperity objectives”.
Captain Essenhigh and His Excellency, Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus. While in Limassol the ship hosted a wide range of representatives including Cypriot politicians, diplomats, members of the armed forces, police and coastguard. Many members of the UK Forces based in Cyprus also visited the ship.
While the HMS Queen Elizabeth, RFA Fort Victoria and USS The Sullivans were in Limassol, HMS Diamond proceeded to Egypt, HMS Kent went to Greece and HMS Richmond visited Israel.
HMS Richmond hosted s series of trade events and the UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss onboard in Haifa. Receptions were designed to showcase the best of British products and services in Israel. Industry days focussed on particular areas where the UK can cooperate with Isreal including the rail sector, marine technology innovation and TV production.
HMS Kent arrived in Piraeus Greece on 18th June and hosted the Minister of Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin MP, and Vice Admiral Petrakis of the Hellenic Navy. The Chief Executive of Babcock recently said Type 31 is a “serious contender” for the Greek frigate requirement and HMS Kent’s visit helped support the effort to sell Type 31 frigate design to Greece, she also hosted students from Athens University, Greek Journalists and Kate Smith, the British Ambassador.
On 24th June, HMS Kent exercised with HS Daniolos of the Hellenic Navy. She is a Vosper-Thorneycroft-designed Roussen Class Fast Attack Craft. This design was a development of the Vita/Bazan class that may be used as the basis for the fast attack craft that Babcock is going to build for Ukraine.
RAF Hercules transport aircraft conducted a number of approaches over the carrier in the Mediterranean (22nd June). This was essentially a familiarisation flight – the RAF may be called on to air-drop personnel or supplies to the carrier group in future. The RAF’s 14 remaining Hercules C-130Js are due to be axed by 2023, the A300M Atlas is supposed to take over its role. Incidentally, Hercules aircraft have managed to land on the larger US Navy aircraft carriers in trials, although not for practical purposes, certainly not viable for the smaller, ramp-equipped QEC carriers.
After passing through the Dardanelles, HMS Defender returned to Souda Bay. The Russian media were still issuing threats to ‘sink’ her more than 10 days after her innocent passage through Crimean waters on 23rd June. The trolls were even claiming she was in Souda Bay having suffered “serious damage” to her electronics off Crimea, similar to the false claims they made about USS Donald Cook being disabled by electronic means in the Black Sea in 2014. Defender sailed on 5th July bound for the Suez Canal as planned.
The ships of the CSG will now pass through the Suez Canal to begin the Indo-Pacific leg of the deployment. Transit of the canal and the Red Sea poses a higher risk than operations in the Mediterranean and there may be more limited coverage of the group’s whereabouts and activities for a while.