AIRCRAFT carrier HMS Illustrious will leave Portsmouth on Monday for a major show of strength in the Mediterranean.
Seven navy helicopters will land on the 22,000-tonne warship early in the morning before she sets sail at 1.30pm.
Lusty 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 if required.
It’s the ship’s first major deployment since returning to frontline operations after a £40m refit in 2010.
After training off Cornwall next week, she will meet up with 12 UK 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 which begins later this month.
The navy stressed the exercise is not in response to the war in Syria or diplomatic tensions with Iran.
A spokesman said: ‘The Cougar exercise is long-planned, annual deployment, and not in response to any current world events.’
The RFTG was created in 2010 as a roving force to respond to unexpected conflicts or events.
Last year, it was called into action off the coast of Libya.
Defence secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘The UK’s Response Force Task Group is a major force forming part of our contingent capability, ready and able to respond to emerging events worldwide.
‘This deployment will see it work alongside our allies at a time when international co-operation and joint operations are more important than ever before.’
Lusty will link up with French carrier FS Charles de Gaulle in a step towards a Anglo-French force by 2016.
Charles de Gaulle’s flight deck will be the launch pad for Super Étendard and Rafale jets – offering a glimpse of how the RFTG should look once the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth carriers enter service with Lightening II jets from 2020.
The training will be directed by Commodore Paddy McAlpine and Brigadier Martin Smith from HMS Bulwark
Cdre McAlpine said: ‘Cougar 12 provides us with a superb opportunity to rekindle our amphibious capability after a prolonged period when our focus has been on operations elsewhere.’