The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed into its home base for an unscheduled stop ahead of its first operational deployment to the Far East.
The £3 billion aircraft carrier has just taken part in a major exercise off the coast of Scotland and had intended to carry out its final deployment preparations while in the Solent along with the other ships of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG).
But the poor weather forecast for the coming days including heavy winds has caused the 65,000-tonne warship to return to Portsmouth Naval Base while some of the other CSG ships have headed to Devonport.
The carrier, which arrived at Portsmouth with F35B Lightning jets on its flight deck, is then expected to sail for the deployment to the Indo-Pacific region on Sunday.
A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said: “Following the completion of Exercise Strike Warrior, HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to Portsmouth Naval Base to complete final preparations prior to the start of her first operational deployment.”
It is understood that the ship has not experienced any mechanical or personnel issue requiring the call to port and all personnel will remain onboard during the stay in Portsmouth to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
The carrier, with eight RAF and 10 US Marine Corps F35B stealth fighter jets on board, will depart for Asia accompanied by six Royal Navy ships, a submarine, 14 naval helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.
The CSG, which will carry out visits to India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, will include the US destroyer USS The Sullivans and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
A total 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines are involved in the deployment which will cover 25,000 nautical miles.
Commodore Stephen Moorhouse told the PA news agency prior to sailing at the start of the month: “This is an amazing capability and pulling that all together with our international partners is a real statement that the Royal Navy is very much in the Premier League.
“The deployment takes us through the Mediterranean, the Middle East then operating with key partners in the Indo-Pacific just shows the Royal Navy has an ambition to be active on the global stage and operate wherever our politicians may feel fit.”
The MoD has announced that the CSG’s F35B Lightning fast jets operated by the renowned “Dambusters” squadron, or 617 Squadron, will join Operation Shader targeting the remnants of so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The F35B jets are multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology – enabling them to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said: “We’re going to conduct operations in support of the Government of Iraq, fighting the remnants of Daesh in Iraq and Syria – and continuing to take the fight to them in their sanctuary where otherwise they would be threatening the streets of the United Kingdom and our allies.”
Thousands of well-wishers and a flotilla of small boats turned out to wave off HMS Queen Elizabeth as it left Portsmouth on May 1 on what was, at the time, understood to be its last sailing from the Hampshire port prior to the deployment.