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As HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares to sail into Portsmouth for the first time tomorrow – the UK carrier strike team have proved their skills on a major US-UK exercise.

Saxon Warrior 2017 saw more than 60 Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel direct carrier strike operations from the deck of the USS George HW Bush to practise for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The exercise, which involved more than 100 jets, nearly 10,000 personnel and 15 warships from five NATO nations – including two frigates from Portsmouth Naval Base – took place off the coast of Scotland.

Commodore Andrew Betton, Commander UK Carrier Strike group said:

“As we prepare to welcome HMS Queen Elizabeth to Portsmouth for the first time Exercise Saxon Warrior has offered an unparalleled opportunity for the Royal Navy to rehearse the coordination of the various ships, aircraft and submarines that will form the UK’s Carrier Strike Group.

Exercising command of the USS George H W Bush Strike Group enabled me to understand, at first hand, the dynamics of directing a powerful, multinational force in an operational environment. Protecting and sustaining the aircraft carrier is the main role of the Strike Group’s frigates, destroyers and supply ships, enabling the air wing to project influence and power at range.

The exercise has allowed us to prove our national operating concept and build invaluable experience, competence and credibility alongside our closest strategic ally.” 

According to the Royal Navy:

“The fortnight-long exercise saw the COMUKTG staff work with their American counterparts to fight off a series of simulated threats from enemy forces. The threats were specifically designed to test the UK personnel’s reactions for coordinating a response and were coordinated from Clyde Naval Base in Faslane, Scotland.

The exercise staff from the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) provided scenarios which ranged from defeating enemy forces in the air, on land, and on and under the sea, to rescuing downed airmen, and ensuring the freedom of merchant and pleasure craft to use the seas.”

Exercise Director, Captain Andrew Stacey said:

“Exercise Saxon Warrior is an incredibly important and exciting step in the regeneration of the UK’s Carrier Strike capability. For my team, Saxon Warrior represents the culmination of a long planning process and also marks the first step in a busy future of UK Carrier Strike Group training.”  

Exercise activity was centred around the scenario of a conflict between neighbouring countries – one supported by a multinational naval force and Carrier Strike Group, the other by frigates, destroyers, submarines and land-based aircraft.   Supporting aircraft also simulated air raids with 29 Commando and Swedish tactical air controllers providing forward observation to ships and aircraft dropping ordnance on Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland.

COMUKCSG Strike Warfare Commander Colonel Phil Kelly RM said:

“We also had the great opportunity to fly over and land on HMS Queen Elizabeth, our new aircraft carrier. It was emotional – this has been a long time coming and something we will never forget – that seminal moment that you step out on the deck at sea of the UK’s newest aircraft carrier after having landed on for the first time.

We look forward to her arriving in Portsmouth so we can deepen the COMUKCSG links with her crew and settle in to working with her as a matter of routine – exciting times.”

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