On 1 May 2021, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) departed Her Majesty's Naval Base Portsmouth (HMNB Portsmouth) on her first maiden deployment.
The Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is scheduled to visit more than 40 countries and conduct more than 70 engagements, including dual carrier operations with French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Mediterranean. Engagements are scheduled with India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. The strike group will also take part in Exercise Bersama Lima to mark the 50th anniversary of the five-powers agreement with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The length of the deployment is 28 weeks.
The Queen Elizabeth will carry eight Royal Air Force (RAF) F-35B Lightning IIs (617 Squadron Dambusters), ten US Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B Lightning IIs (VMFA-211 The Wake Island Avengers), four AW159 Wildcat HMA2 maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin HM2 anti-submarine and three Merlin HC4 commando helicopters.
Prior to leaving the UK, the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) will take part in a major exercise, Strike Warrior, off the coast of Scotland before departing for the Mediterranean. After this exercise, QE and her Carrier Strike Group will head south through the Atlantic with a stop-off expected in Gibraltar before heading into the Mediterranean.
The CSG will include the Daring-class destroyers, HMS Defender (D36) and HMS Diamond (D34); Norfolk-class frigates, HMS Kent (F78) and HMS Richmond (F239) ; an Astute-class attack submarine; and the support ships RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and RFA Tidespring (A136). In addition, the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F-805) and US destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) will accompany the carrier group.
Overview of the 32 aircraft and helicopters known to be deployed:
8x 617sq F-35B: ZM147/013, ZM148/014, ZM150/016, ZM151/017, ZM152/018, ZM153/019, ZM154/020 and ZM155/021 (arrived on 2 and 3 May 2021)
4x 815NAS Wildcat HMA2: ZZ514, ZZ518, ZZ530 and ZZ535
4x 820NAS Merlin HM2: ZH824, ZH827, ZH841 and ZH857
3x 820NAS Merlin HM2 Crowsnest AEW: ZH843, ZH846 and ZH856
3x 845NAS Merlin HC4: ZJ121/E, ZJ127/L and ZJ129/N (arrived on 3 May 2021)
10x VMFA-211 F-35B: 169620/CF-00, 169621/CF-01, 169587/CF-02, 169416/CF-03, 169589/CF-04, 169678/CF-05, 169607/CF-06, 169608/CF-07, 169610/CF-08 and 169614/CF-09 (arrived on 2 and 3 May 2021, CF-03 still at Lakenheath)
In January 2021, the CSG has reached Initial Operating Capability (IOC). See the Scramble Magazine news report of 4 January 2021. After its return from the maiden deployment, the CGS continues it work-ups that will lead to Full Operating Capability (FOC) in December 2023.
Photos: Forces.net and USAF/Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte