Huge fleet heads out from UK

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Final preparations have been made as HMS Queen Elizabeth gets ready to sail on her 26,000 nautical mile maiden deployment on May 1, Forces Net reports.

The £3.2bn aircraft carrier will lead the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG 21) – the Royal Navy‘s largest deployment in more than a decade.

Following Exercise Strike Warrior off the coast of Scotland, the vessel and her Carrier Strike Group will head south through the Atlantic with a stop-off expected in Gibraltar before heading into the Mediterranean.

The group will visit more than a fifth of the world’s nations over 28 weeks.

One thousand seven hundred personnel will be living and working on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, 250 of whom are from the US.

Joining the aircraft carrier are six frigates and destroyers, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, an Astute-class submarine, 18 F-35 fighter jets and 14 naval helicopters which arrived this week ahead of deployment.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, told Forces News: “I think it shows we’re a naval capability that should be taken seriously.

“The ship is designed from the keel up to operate the latest jets, the F-35, the support shipping that goes with that – our destroyers and our frigates.

“It’s a fantastic capability and it shows the Navy really has got a global footprint and that’s something we want to be demonstrating on this deployment.”

The Strike Group will visit 40 countries in total, with the journey through the South China Sea potentially causing some issues.

HMS Albion conducted a freedom of navigation exercise there in 2018 which led to China accusing the UK of entering its waters without permission.

Cdre Moorhouse added: “There are disputed waters everywhere. We’’ll be ready for anything.

“The plan that you sail with is rarely the plan you undertake.

As well as having American personnel on board, 10 of the 18 F-35s jets belong to the US.

Colonel Simon Doran, Senior National Representative Carrier Strike Group 2021, said: “Once we get past the language barrier that we have, it’s actually quite easy.

“Our procedures in many cases, especially with the F-35 are almost identical and so often at times you don’t know if it’s a US or UK F-35, and many times we’re mixed and it’s not until you hear the accent on the radio that you realise which nation the aircraft comes from.”

Stephen Hopper, Head of Naval Base Operations in Portsmouth, said more than half a dozen helicopter engines and “900 pallets of food” have been loaded in preparation as well as “fifty-four ISO (shipping) containers of equipment and two F35 jet engines” which he estimates are worth about $20m each.

“It’s been going on day and night for almost a month,” he added.

Able Seaman Helayna Birkett, Writer on HMS Queen Elizabeth, works in the ship’s office.

Her role involves “paying allowances, we do travel, we do appraisals and, if I’m Duty Writer, we also are support firefighter and we’ll be the ones tackling floods if there is any, which hopefully there won’t be!

She said: “You have quite a lot of room for your own stuff. You’re in bunk beds with quite a few girls. It’s good.

“You get used to living with people and it’s nice – there’s always someone to talk to.”

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