HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group 21 deployment has placed a strong emphasis on airpower interoperability during a month in North Asia.
Following its transit of the Malacca Strait followed by a passage of Singapore on 27 July, the Royal Navy (RN)-led task group transited the Luzon Strait and entered the Philippine Sea, according to social media posts.
In addition to the 65,000t aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, the strike group comprises RN surface combatants and support ships, as well as a US Navy destroyer and a Dutch frigate.
The vessel’s air wing includes 18 Lockheed Martin F-35Bs drawn from the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) 617 Sqn and the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VFMA-211). In addition, she carries Leonardo Helicopters AW101 Merlins from 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons, with Lynx Wildcats from 815 NAS embarked on a Type 45 destroyer.
Social media accounts and statements from various militaries suggest a busy schedule after entering Asian waters.
The highlight was the triennial Large Scale Global Exercise 21, a US-led event that ran from 2-27 August, incorporating all branches of the US military, in addition to forces from the UK, Australia and Japan.
The exercise saw a USMC F-35B from VFMA-211 launch from Queen Elizabeth and land on the assault ship USS America, where it loaded ordnance, refuelled, and took off to perform follow-on objectives.
“This mission was the first time in modern history the United States has cross-decked aircraft for a mission utilising a foreign aircraft carrier, demonstrating naval partnerships in action,” says the USMC.
In addition, the US Air Force published images of VMFA-211 F-35Bs receiving fuel from Boeing KC-135s operating from Japan’s Kadena air base.
The exercise also saw helicopters from the various navies “learn to operate seamlessly with ships from allied nations”.
The strike group also conducted work with the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Activities included the buddy refuelling of VMFA-211 F-35Bs from an F/A-18E Super Hornet.
The strike group also visited South Korea, with Republic of Korea Navy Sikorsky UH-60Ms landing on the RN aircraft carrier.
Queen Elizabeth is on a seven-month global deployment after departing Portsmouth in southern England on 22 May.