The UK Carrier Strike Group arrived in the North Pacific in early August. This photo and video essay covers the activities of the group during the subsequent 5 weeks.
The programme was severely disrupted by the worsening COVID situation in South Korea and Japan and some major changes to the planned schedule have been made. Most of the CSG ships had spent around 5 weeks at sea since leaving the Mediterranean, covering over 10,000 nautical miles. The ships arrived at the US Naval base in Guam on 6th August where most of the crews were able to get ashore for some well-deserved downtime.
Shortly after leaving Guam on 14 August, HMS Kent, HMS Defender and HNLMS Evertsen conducted a naval gunfire support (NGS) exercise against a land range on the uninhabited Farallon de Medinilla in the middle of the Marianas while working with US Marines Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs).
HMS Queen Elizabeth completed her first transfer of live munitions from RFA Fort Victoria on 17 August. 14,540kg of munitions were transferred including 16 Paveway IV laser-guided bombs and 41,785kg of mixed food and maintenance stores for the ship.
The CSG participated in Large Scale General Exercise (LSGE21), a global command and control exercise, with a regional focus, to enhance integration of the US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific. On 20th Aug, F35 aircraft launched from HMS Queen Elizabeth to USS America, loaded ordnance and fuel before conducting a mission. This is the first time in modern history the US has cross-decked jets utilising a foreign aircraft carrier.
PHOTEX at the conclusion of 12-day Exercise Noble Union held South of Okinawa. Elements of the UK-led carrier strike group operated with USS America-led Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and two ships from Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force. Participating warships were: HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Defender, HMS Kent, HNLMS Evertsen, USS The Sullivans, USS America, USS New Orleans, JS Ise and JS Asahi. This is period also included participation in Exercise Pacific Crown 21-1 and 21-2 which involved tactical and communications drills.
Breaking off from exercises with the Japanese and the Americans, the CSG focused on bilateral exchanges with South Korea. The Future Pacific Forum event that would have been hosted onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth from 31 Aug – 2 Sept in Busan was postponed due to COVID. Only HMS Astute and HNMLS Evertsen were able to visit South Korea but exercises and discussions were held at sea. COMUKCSG thanked the South Koreans for their “enthusiastic support” for the carrier group.
On 1st Sept, Babcock. signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd (HHI) as they seek to co-operate on the Korean CVX Aircraft Carrier Programme. Babcock will provide expertise derived from their participation QEC programme. The British company are also investing further in support facilities in Busan, where they currently assemble equipment for a growing number of South Korean naval programmes.
HMS Diamond finally sailed from Taranto on 31st August after completing rectification of a major engine defect. She broke down in the Mediterranean in early July and the repair work was delayed by positive COVID tests amongst her crew and the contractors. She passed through the Suez Canal on 4th September, heading east to participate in the second half of the CSG deployment.
The visit to Japan was seen as the cornerstone of the deployment with UK-Japanese diplomatic and trade relationships becoming ever stronger. Unfortunately, the effects of the pandemic have hit hard in Japan and there was enormous disappointment that the crew were confined to the ship for the truncated 3-day visit to Yokosuka. A limited number of officials were hosted by HMS Queen Elizabeth including JMSDF officers to discuss F-35B operations from the carrier. Japan is buying 40 F-35Bs and updating their Izumo-class light carriers to operate them. Later leaders from major Japanese industries also visited the ship.
After sailing from Yokosuka, HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Defender, RFA Tidespring and HNLMS Evertsen met up with JS Izumo, JS Ise and HMCS Winnipeg for 3-day exercise Pacific Crown 21-3. The ships conducted officer of the watch manoeuvres, antisubmarine training, joint flying ops and PHOTEX including fly-past with UK, US and Japanese F35B’s, 9th Sept.