Royal Navy’s ‘Premier League’ aircraft carrier ready to deploy for Far East
By Ben Mitchell, PA
The commander of the UK’s “Premier League” Carrier Strike Group which is set to sail on its first operational deployment next month has said the mission shows the Royal Navy’s “ambition to be active on the global stage”.
Commodore Stephen Moorhouse said that final preparations are being made as the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is readied to set sail on Saturday from Portsmouth Naval Base for exercises off Scotland before heading to the Indo-Pacific region.
The £3 billion warship, with eight RAF and 10 US Marine Corps F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
The Carrier Strike Group (CSG), which will carry out visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, will include the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
Mr Moorhouse told PA: “Morale is fantastic with a real sense of excitement, the deployment has been a number of years in planning, for youngsters setting off on their first deployment or more seasoned sailors like myself it’s a trip of a lifetime deployment that everyone is looking forward to.”
He added: “This is an amazing capability and pulling that all together with our international partners is a real statement that the Royal Navy is very much in the Premier League.
“The deployment takes us through the Mediterranean, the Middle East then operating with key partners in the Indo-Pacific just shows the Royal Navy has an ambition to be active on the global stage and operate wherever our politicians may feel fit.”
Mr Moorhouse said that managing the threat of Covid-19 was a major challenge, adding: “Managing Covid in a fairly dynamic situation across the world, it’s a picture that changes daily and looking after our people is one of the biggest challenges we face.”
Colonel Simon Doran, the senior US representative in the CSG, said: “We have been planning this deployment together for 10 years and it’s a unique opportunity for us to share lessons learned while we learn them together.
“It sends a message to potential adversaries but also to our allies to reinforce should they ever be needed, we will be there, we generally always fight together so to deploy together really helps strengthen our relationship.”
Able seaman Helayna Birkett, 21, from the Wirrall, Merseyside, said: “I am just so happy and very grateful to be part of it, it’s the flagship of the Royal Navy so it was really important to me to come on this ship, just so excited, it means a lot that I’m here.”
Stephen Hopper, head of Portsmouth Naval Base operations, said that preparations started 12 years ago for the first CSG deployment and has involved up to 500 base staff and involved loading 924 pallets of food and two F35B jet engines worth £20 million each.
He said: “In the last six weeks we have been in the process of getting the ship loaded and ready to go, that’s everything from going up to Scotland to load bombs and bullets to the final process of loading.”
He said the preparations included setting up a Covid-19 isolation facility to enable crew to be cleared prior to embarkment.