More than 60 personnel have been fighting a series of high tempo warfighting challenges as part of a NATO maritime exercise off the coast of Scotland, preparing for the operation of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Embedded within the Nimitz class US carrier USS George HW Bush the UK personnel have been working with their US counterparts to hone their carrier strike skills ahead of the arrival of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The war games, called Exercise Saxon Warrior, have seen the Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group Commodore Andrew Betton and his team direct jets, firepower and personnel across the task group for the last ten days to ensure full readiness for the UK’s own carrier strike capability.
As well as the USS George HW Bush, the group includes two Portsmouth based Type 23 frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Iron Duke, destroyer USS Donald Cook , missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Ingstad.
Strike Warfare Commander Colonel Phil Kelly Royal Marine said:
“We have been working with the US for a few weeks now and they are doing a really good job of helping us train in bringing our skill set up so that when we do bring in our aircraft carrier and join that up with our aircraft then we can do it in a much more effective manner because we have seen how the experts do it. The exercise is going well, we are being tested at every turn and it is an extremely valuable training opportunity for us all.”
Captain Ken Houlberg, Chief of Staff to COMUKCSG said:
“The US Navy, out of huge generosity, given us the whole of their carrier strike group so that we can practise the command and control of a carrier doing these operations in British waters so that when HMS Queen Elizabeth comes into service later this year we will be well on the way to forming our own carrier strike capability.”
The exercise, which has been at play for nearly a week, has seen the COMUKTG staff work with their American counterparts to fight off a series of simulated threats from enemy forces, using all the air, surface and sub-surface assets of the entire task group. The threats have been specifically designed to test the UK personnel’s reactions for coordinating a response.
There are 15 ships from across NATO taking part throughout the exercise with more than 100 aircraft and nearly 10,000 personnel.
Fixed Wing Operations Officer Lieutenant Commander James Capps, a Royal Navy fixed wing pilot said:
“We are extremely fortunate. Being here on the George HW Bush has given us the opportunity to see where we are and what we need to achieve for our own UK carrier strike capability and to be here to see how the US does it has been fantastic preparation. They have been so welcoming and we are extremely grateful for the experience.”
Personnel from the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff (JTEPS) in Northwood are coordinating events from HM Naval Base Clyde during the duration of the giant military exercise.