HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH’S CARRIER TASK GROUP TAKES SHAPE
We've gone on about it for years. Here's the reality of the UK's 21st-Century Carrier Strike Group: one 65,000-tonne carrier (HMS Queen Elizabeth) flanked by one state-of-the-art air defence destroyer (HMS Dragon) and one state-of-the-art submarine hunting frigate (HMS Northumberland), supported by one fleet tanker (RFA Tideforce) providing fuel for the ships and aircraft, plus other supplies.
This is the first time the quartet have linked up on the Westlant 19 deployment; Northumberland attached herself to the task group off the eastern seaboard of the United States after taking part in the Canadian-led submarine hunting exercise Cutlass Fury.
Photography complete, Dragon broke away from the task force to join another carrier group working in the same waters off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The Portsmouth-based destroyer is now spending a few days with Carrier Strike Group 10, led by the mighty USS Dwight D Eisenhower (100,000 tonnes, 6,000 crew, 70 strike fighters, helicopters, early-warning and specialist electronic warfare aircraft) which is undergoing the US Navy's Tailored Ship's Training Availability/Final Evaluation Problem.
Once done with Ike, Dragon will re-attach herself to the Queen Elizabeth group ready to begin combined training with UK F-35 Lightning stealth fighters from 617 Squadron as the RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots touch down on her 280-metre-long flight deck for the first time.
As well as acting as the shield for the 65,000-tonne leviathan (and the rest of the task group) from air attack, thanks to her cutting-edge radar and trained controllers in the operations room Dragon can also direct the carrier's jets on to targets - be they in the air or on the ground.
The carrier's deck has been busy on the 800-mile passage down the eastern seaboard from Halifax, Nova Scotia - the only stop to date - to launching her own Merlin Mk2 (submarine hunters) and Mk4 (commando carriers) to conducting deck trials with the US Marine Corps' impressive Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (half turbo-prop/half helicopter).