Today the RN formally declared IOC for the UK Carrier Strike Group which is now at ‘very high readiness’, available to deploy anywhere in the world at five days notice.
In 2020 the carrier strike group demonstrated the various elements could be brought together and successfully operated. The CSG consists of many interdependent parts including the fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, together with trained aircrew, engineers and controllers. Protecting the carrier is a mix of ASW frigates and air defence destroyers and at least one submarine. Logistic support from at least one RFA tanker and the sole solid support ship, RFA Fort Victoria completes the group.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently in Portsmouth undergoing her final Capability Insertion Period, This includes further work on the flight deck surfacing and will see her fitted with four 30mm cannons, completing her outfit of self-defence weaponry. Although officially at 5 days readiness to sail in the event of a crisis, this would require a herculean effort to prepare the ship, supporting aircraft and warships in such short time. The RN has achieved this kind of miracle in the past but the intention to rely on allied warships to form part of the carrier group raises interesting questions about their readiness, assuming there is always political agreement they will participate.
The COMUKCSG staff are now involved in the detailed planning of the first operational deployment in May 2021, which will be the largest peacetime RN task group to put to sea in 25 years. For now, the emphasis should be more on “initial” than “capability” but over the next few years, the scale and reach of the group will expand considerably. More UK jets will become available with a greater variety of air weapons integrated. Crowsnest Airborne Surveillance and Control will become fully operational and the introduction of Sea Venom and I-SSGW will help restore a credible anti-ship punch. Most importantly, the greater experience will be acquired and full operating capability for the CSG is due by December 2023.