After a decade of anticipation and meticulous planning, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has now joined forces with her naval task group.
The 65,000-tonne leviathan was once mocked by Russia as being a ‘large convenient target’.
But the £3.2bn warship is now at the centre of the ‘largest and most powerful European-led maritime force in almost 20 years’, the Royal Navy said.
The hi-tech armada, made up of nine warships, 15 fighter jets, 11 helicopters and 3,000 personnel from the UK, US and Netherlands, is now sharpening its skills in the North Sea ahead of a maiden deployment next year.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, who is in charge of the task force, said: ‘The new UK carrier strike group is the embodiment of British maritime power, and sits at the heart of a modernised and emboldened Royal Navy.
‘Protected by a ring of advanced destroyers, frigates, helicopters and submarines, and equipped with fifth generation fighters, HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing; and with our Nato allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances.’
And the fighting prowess of the new naval task group is no longer a laughing matter for military chiefs in Moscow, insisted former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West.
Speaking to The News last night, the retired naval chief said: ‘The Russians might say carriers are just a “big target” but they know bloody well they’re not – they’re terrified of a full carrier battle group.
‘Part of the reason for the ending of the Cold War was the Americans, with our assistance with Nato, went north of the Greenland/Iceland gap with their carrier battle groups and our anti-submarine warfare striking group and that threatened the polar inlet.
‘The Russians found to counter this the cost was so huge that they couldn’t keep up their spending and that was part of the reason for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
‘They know very well how capable a carrier battle group is. But of course they will say they can sink them and of course they will say they’re not worried about them.’
Providing unrivalled protection from aerial threats are two of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyers, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender.
Supporting the strike group is another American destroyer, USS The Sullivans, as well as British frigates HMS Northumberland and HMS Kent and the Dutch Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen.
The formidable fighting force will not only protect HMS Queen Elizabeth from enemy ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles, but are also capable of conducting a range of supporting missions, from maritime security to disaster relief.
Meanwhile, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships, RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria, will supply fuel, food, spares and ammunition, to enabled sustained operations from the sea without host nation support.
Cabinet minister and former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt praised all those involved in bringing the mighty task group together.
The Portsmouth North MP told The News: ‘This fills me with pride. Just 11 years ago people were mooting the end of carriers and all they delivered.
‘Now we have that capability truly coming back online. I want to thank all involved in the huge effort to deliver this, many of whom live and work in our city.’
Queen Elizabeth and her strike group are currently exercising alongside allied nations in the North Sea, as part of Nato’s largest annual exercise, Joint Warrior.
The Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier and her task group is expected to deploy on her first operational mission early next year.