HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Carrier Strike Group will be joined by a detachment of US Marine Corps F-35B jets and US Navy destroyer, USS The Sullivans.
This confirms what has been planned for a long time as the UK and US have made it official by signing a ‘Joint Declaration’.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:
“This joint declaration paves the way for the US Navy and Marine Corps to be joining the HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH Carrier Strike Group this year for the inaugural Carrier Strike 21 deployment. I am delighted that the UK now possesses a 21st century Carrier Strike capability, which has been greatly assisted by the unswerving support and cooperation of the United States at all levels over the past decade. This deployment embodies the strength of our bilateral ties and reflects the depth and breadth of this vital defence and security partnership.”
The UK reached a major milestone in December when it declared its Carrier Strike programme had achieved Initial Operating Capability following a series of multi-national exercises throughout 2020. This Joint Declaration paves the way for a successful inaugural operational deployment of the UK Carrier Strike Group alongside its allies.
How many aircraft will the vessel carry on this deployment?
The plan, as I understand it, is around 24 jets plus helicopters. As pointed out above, US jets will be augmenting British jets.
Jerry Kyd, former commander of HMS Queen Elizabeth, commented on the initial deployment and the gradual increase in air wing numbers:
“We are constrained by the F-35 buy rate even though that was accelerated in SDSR in 2015, so initial operating capability numbers in 2020 are going to be very modest indeed. We will flesh it out with helicopters, and a lot depends on how many USMC F-35s come on our first deployment in 2021. But by 2023, we are committed to 24 UK jets onboard, and after that it’s too far away to say.”
Commodore Michael Utley, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, is reported by Save The Royal Navy here as saying that HMS Queen Elizabeth will be escorted by two Type 45 destroyers, two Type 23 frigates, a nuclear submarine, a Tide-class tanker and RFA Fort Victoria.