Photo essay – 10 hectic days for the Royal Navy’s carrier strike group
Between the 18th and 28th May, the carrier strike group completed exercise Strike warrior, saw the first meeting of two aircraft carriers at sea, returned to port, hosted visits from the Prime Minister and the Queen, re-stored and refuelled, sailed and took centre stage in NATO’s largest exercise of the year.
The long-awaited PHOTEX of the two carriers finally took place off the South coast on 19th May. HMS Prince of Wales has been conducting Operational Sea Training as she re-generates after a lengthy period alongside while HMS Queen Elizabeth was heading back toward Portsmouth after exercise Strike Warrior.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace visited the carrier on the 21st May ahead of her departure for her maiden operational deployment which is intended to signal ‘Global Britain’ and its increased engagement with the world beyond Europe. The very high winds experienced on the day of the PM’s visit were the reason the CSG did not anchor in the Solent as had been planned.
Her Majesty the Queen was hosted onboard on 22nd May in her first public engagement since the sad passing of her husband, HRH Prince Philip. The Queen has a very long and happy association with the Royal Navy and is the ship’s lady sponsor.
The carrier and her American escort made a dramatic dusk departure from Portsmouth on 22 May.
HMS Richmond sailed from Portsmouth on 24th after resolving some mechanical issues.
Ships of the CSG endured heavy weather heading west into the Atlantic to join the maritime phase of NATO exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 off the coast of Portugal, but the conditions soon improved dramatically.
The Royal Navy was central to the maritime phase of exercise Steadfast Defender 2021, the first large-scale test of NATO’s adapted command structure, with the involvement of two new commands – for the Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia and for logistics in Ulm, Germany.
As NATO’s biggest exercise this year, it aims to test readiness and military mobility, with forces deploying across land and sea, from North America to the Black Sea region. Twenty ships were involved in the maritime phase 20-28 May. A ‘free play’ scenario involved ships of SNMG 1 and SNMG 2 attempting to attack the carrier strike group charged with protecting merchant vessels crossing the Atlantic to Europe.
F-35B jets flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth (at sea off the coast of Portugal) participated in exercise Atlantic Trident 2021 off the southwest French coast, involving UK and USMC F-35s, RAF Typhoons & French Air Force Rafale jets. 617 aircraft Squadron flew with and against French Rafale jets and the USMC F-35s in simulated combat. Supporting the exercise was RAF 101 Squadron, flying Voyager tankers providing in-flight refuelling.