The UK Royal Navy (RN) currently has its both of its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers at sea, one deployed on operations while the other is working up for operations, both fully crewed.
The presence of both carriers at sea demonstrates that the RN has improved availability of its carrier capability, despite earlier concerns it would not have the personnel to crew both carriers at the same time.
HMS Prince of Wales deployed to the North Atlantic and Arctic region for the NATO-wide amphibious exercise Cold Response 2022, a commitment that fell within the carrier’s current responsibility as flagship for the maritime component of the NATO Response Force (NRF) for 2022.
Preparing for Cold Response, HMS Prince of Wales operated both Leonardo AW101 Merlin and AW159 Wildcat helicopters, and integrated with the US Navy’s Blue Ridge-class command ship and US Sixth Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney.
Sister ship HMS Queen Elizabeth “[returned] to sea to carry out vital training and exercises to keep her ready for operations”, the RN said in a 9 March statement. Commanding Officer Captain Ian Feasey added: “We return to sea as the UK’s very high readiness strike carrier for routine operational activity and training.” In March, HMS Queen Elizabeth embarked aircraft, in the form of Fleet Air Arm Merlin helicopters from 846 Naval Air Squadron. The carrier also visited Glenmallan, a Ministry of Defence ammunition facility near HM Naval Base Clyde, Scotland, for what the RN referred to as a “routine logistics visit”.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned to operations following routine maintenance that proceeded its high-profile maiden deployment, the CSG21 mission that saw the carrier lead a multinational strike group on operations from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific between May and December 2021. At that time, HMS Prince of Wales was at sea, and sailed with HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Atlantic, but was still working up for operations having been commissioned in December 2019 and having just completed operational sea training.
Although neither carrier is currently embarking F-35B joint strike fighter aircraft for operations, the carriers’ flexibility is demonstrated by the fact that HMS Prince of Wales is acting as the NRF’s at-sea command platform, including for a major alliance combined arms exercise.
by Dr. Lee Willett