HMS Illustrious leaves Portsmouth for war games

Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson. Pictute: LPhot Ioan Roberts

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AIRCRAFT carrier HMS Illustrious left Portsmouth today for a major training exercise in the Mediterranean.

Six helicopters landed on Lusty’s rain-washed flight deck early this morning before she left the naval base at 1.30pm.

ARRIVAL Helicopters on HMS Illustrious

ARRIVAL Helicopters on HMS Illustrious

The 22,000-tonne warship is being deployed as part of the UK’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) which is on a footing to respond to an international crisis at short notice.

It’s the ship’s first major deployment since returning to frontline operations after a £40m refit in 2010.

After training off Cornwall later this week, she will meet up with 12 warships to play a starring role in war games with the French navy in the Med.

More than 3,000 sailors and Royal Marines are taking part in Exercise Cougar.

Lusty will link up with French aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle in what is being seen as a step towards the plan to have an Anglo-French force by 2016.

The two-month deployment coincides with the civil war in Syria and tensions with Iran.

Lusty’s commanding officer, Captain Martin Connell, told The News world events will help ‘focus the mind’ during the training.

He said: ‘We are fully armed, fully trained and fully ready, so yes if we are called upon to do something we are certainly ready to go.

‘This is a small but very capable and potent force.

‘There’s a lot going on right now (in the world). My job is to make sure that if we are invited to take part in a live operation we are able to do so.’