Royal Navy to deploy thousands of sailors to defend HMS Queen Elizabeth in 'exciting' moment for Britain

THOUSANDS of Royal Navy sailors are gearing up to join a fleet of warships protecting Britain’s £3.1bn aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 2:31 pm

The massive 65,000-tonne warship is expected to set sail from Portsmouth Naval Base tomorrow, with a huge complement of 1,700 sailors and airmen embarked on board.

It comes as the mighty carrier heads off on her latest training exercise, which will see about a dozen British and American F-35 stealth jets joining her at sea.

And as the future flagship takes on her final drill, she will be accompanied by one of the largest British strike forces in recent memory, with about 3,000 UK sailors expected to be involved.

HMS Queen Elizabeth departs from Portsmouth after ship's crew is tested for Covid-19 on Wednesday 29 April 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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Adding the naval muscle to the force will be two £1bn-a-piece Type 45 destroyers from Portsmouth, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender.

City-based frigate HMS Kent will also be deploying alongside her sister ship, HMS Northumberland from Devonport.

Meanwhile, an unnamed British submarine will be prowling the waters under the task force to protect the vessels from lurking enemy forces in the deep.

Royal Navy warship HMS Diamond, pictured, will be protecting HMS Queen Elizabeth. Photo: Royal Navy

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the support wing of the navy, will also deploy two of their vessels RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria to help the task force.

Vice Admiral Bob Cooling, a former assistant chief of naval staff and ex-captain of the UK’s last operational aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, said the deployment was a huge moment for the Senior Service.

He said: ‘This is a very, very exciting moment and one that’s, frankly, long overdue. They have overcome massive challenges, financially and logistically, to get here.

‘So to be able to deploy on this scale once again is brilliant news for the country, brilliant news for the Royal Navy and for the defence of the realm.’

Vice Admiral Bob Cooling, retired, pictured on Britain's last operational aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious.

Also joining the carrier strike group will be the American guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.

Queen Elizabeth, which sailed back to Portsmouth on Sunday, is earmarked to leave Princess Royal Jetty at 11.45am tomorrow.

It’s expected the mighty aircraft carrier will sail to C Anchorage, off Stokes Bay, before heading off to join her task force at sea, where she will remain for several weeks

HMS Defender at sea training for OST.

The training is the final hurdle both ship and crew need to overcome before being given the green light for operational missions.

It’s focus will be on Queen Elizabeth’s ability to work as a flagship of a major carrier strike group – similar in size to the one she will eventually deploy with.

As well as working on complex manoeuvres at sea, the ship will also see a huge increase in the number of F-35 flights setting off from it, embarking the largest number of stealth jets and helicopters on board.

Vice Adm Cooling said the deployment would send out a huge statement to defence officials in government, amid fears of looming cutback to Britain’s military.

‘With the backdrop of promised future defence cuts it definitely sets the context that I hope ministers and those in power, making difficult decisions, are now looking at this and knowing instinctively that this is a capability we have invested billions and that must not be impaired in anyway by cuts,’ he told The News.

Queen Elizabeth is one of two new aircraft carriers for the navy, the largest British warships ever built. She will deploy early next year on her maiden operational deployment.

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