Ahead of her first entry to Portsmouth, HMS Queen Elizabeth has met up with the USS George HW Bush and her carrier strike group off the coast of Scotland.
The Nimitz-class US carrier has more than 60 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines on board, who have been working with their US counterparts to hone carrier strike skills ahead of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s entry into service.
The series of war games have seen the Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Andrew Betton, and his team direct jets, firepower and personnel across the task group for the last ten days to ensure readiness for the UK’s own carrier strike capability.
During a pause in the exercise’s high tempo activities, there was a chance for HMS Queen Elizabeth to join the carrier strike group for a brief period as she continues her own contractor sea trials ahead of her much-anticipated first entry into her new home port in Portsmouth, expected to be in just under two weeks.
Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Commanding Officer, said: “The USS George HW Bush battle group is an awesome embodiment of maritime power projection. And given that the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group Commander and his staff are embedded on board the US carrier for Saxon Warrior shows the closeness of our relationship with the US Navy and the importance that both nations place on the delivery of the UK’s Carrier Strike programme.
“HMS Queen Elizabeth is at the start of her journey to generate to full warfighting capability, but we are working hard to ready ourselves to take our place in operations and the line of battle alongside our closest allies.”
As well as the USS George HW Bush, the group includes two Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Iron Duke, destroyer USS Donald Cook, missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad.
Captain Ken Houlberg, Chief of Staff to the Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “The US Navy, out of huge generosity, has given us the whole of their carrier strike group so that we can practise the command and control of a carrier doing these operations in British waters so that when HMS Queen Elizabeth comes into service later this year we will be well on the way to forming our own carrier strike capability.”
The exercise, which has been at play for nearly a week, has seen UK staff work with their American counterparts to fight off a series of simulated threats from enemy forces, using all the air, surface and sub-surface assets of the entire task group.
There are 15 ships from across NATO taking part in the exercise, called Exercise Saxon Warrior, with more than 100 aircraft and nearly 10,000 people.
Lieutenant Commander James Capps, a Royal Navy fixed wing pilot who is the Fixed Wing Operations Officer on the exercise, said: “We are extremely fortunate. Being here on the George HW Bush has given us the opportunity to see where we are and what we need to achieve for our own UK carrier strike capability and to be here to see how the US does it has been fantastic preparation. They have been so welcoming and we are extremely grateful for the experience.”
The Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced on Monday that Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy, is set to enter her new home in Portsmouth in around two weeks.
Weather conditions mean the exact date of the historic moment is yet to be confirmed, the window for entry will open next Thursday 17 August, with her arrival expected to be no later than the following Tuesday 22 August.
With only three other countries in the world building aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth will give Britain the capability to lead the way in tackling global issues in an increasingly uncertain world, from providing humanitarian relief to high-end war fighting.
And with the state-of-the-art F-35B Lightning fighter jets on track to make their first trial flights from the carrier’s deck next year, the UK is now building towards delivering carrier strike capability. Both aircraft carriers are being delivered by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance.