U.K. Carrier Strike Group Achieves Initial Operational Capability

A Marine with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 launches an F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the deck aboard Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Elizabeth at sea on 10 October, 2020. U.S. Marine Corps / 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner

LONDON — The United Kingdom Royal Navy’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has reached Initial Operating Capability (IOC), meaning all elements of the group from fighter jets to radar systems to anti-ship weapons have been successfully brought together and operated, the U.K Ministry of Defence said in a Jan. 4 release. 

Both the air and naval elements of the CSG have now met this milestone, which includes qualified pilots and ground crews being held at short notice for carrier-based operations and trained to handle weapons and maintain the equipment. 

Another marker of success at this stage includes the ability to deploy Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities such as frigates and destroyers, as well as both fixed and rotary wing aircraft including Merlin helicopters to operate alongside the carrier. 

“This is a hugely significant milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and the whole country,” said Defence Minister Jeremy Quin. “This achievement is a testament to the determination of our service personnel and industry workforce who have delivered this first-rate military capability, a capability held by only a handful of nations. I wish the entire Carrier Strike Group well ahead of their first operational deployment this year.” 

Following the success of the NATO Joint Warrior Exercises last autumn, the Carrier Strike Group capability has reached the key IOC milestone for the program on schedule. 

The multinational deployment in 2020 focused on incorporating all elements of the CSG with 13 of the United Kingdom’s allies including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, Japan, United Arab Emirates and the United States. Exercise Joint Warrior saw the largest number of aircraft on a British Royal Navy carrier since 1983, as well as the most F-35B jets at sea across the globe. In addition to U.K. F-35Bs, the Queen Elizabeth has operated with U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211. 

Full operating capability for the CSG is expected by December 2023.