HMS Queen Elizabeth has led 19 Nato warships in war games off Portugal as they practise deploying to the Black Sea in a display of maritime strength just days ahead of Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Joe Biden.
The £3 billion pride of the Royal Navy was joined by vessels from the US and eight other allied nations for operation Steadfast Defender on Friday – starting off the coast of Portugal last week, it will conclude with ground exercises in the Black Sea region later this month amid simmering tensions with Russia.
The armada, which included submarines, destroyers and frigates, was backed by immense aerial support from the RAF’s brand new F-35B Lightning stealth fighters, Portuguese F-16 Fighting Falcons and Spanish F-18 Hornets, as well as hulking US anti-submarine Poseidon and Orion warplanes.
Nato chiefs insist the military exercises, involving 9,000 troops, are not aimed at Russia specifically, but they focus on the Black Sea region where Moscow deployed thousands of troops ahead of military drills throughout mid-April.
The display brought back memories of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and prompted US President Joe Biden to schedule a summit with Putin which will take place in Geneva later this month.
Following four years of unorthodox foreign policy under Donald Trump, Biden has said: ‘It’s time to remind everybody who we are.’
It comes as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab prepares to make his own rebuke of Putin’s ‘aggressive behaviour’ during a Nato summit later today.
‘From Russia’s aggressive behaviour towards Ukraine to Lukashenko’s assault on civil aviation, democratic values are under attack,’ Mr Raab told The Telegraph ahead of the meeting.
‘As one of the biggest contributors to Nato, UK support for the transatlantic alliance is unwavering. We will work with Allies and partners to defend our allies and our values.’
The Nato operation coincides with HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage that will see her visit 40 countries over the next six months as Britain demonstrates its position as a global superpower post-Brexit.
HMS Queen Elizabeth with an armada of 19 Nato warships off the coast of Portugal last Friday during the Steadfast Defender operation
The £3 billion pride of the Royal Navy ‘Big Lizzie’ leading the line on Friday as the warships practised in the Atlantic off Portgual
The flotilla included submarines, destroyers and frigates from Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the US
A Portuguese submarine cuts through the water ahead of HMS Queen Elizabeth during exercises off the coast of Portugal on Friday
The carrier is ‘a hugely powerful statement,’ Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the ship’s commanding officer and captain said on deck off the Portuguese coast as F-35 jets took off around him last week.
‘It shows that we are a global navy and wanting to be back out there,’ he said. ‘The aim for us is that this deployment will be part of a more persistent presence for the United Kingdom in that region,’ he added, referring to the Indo-Pacific that includes India and Australia.
Nato launched a massive spending initiative after Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2018 and wants to deter Putin from incurring any further into Europe.
The alliance’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg says the exercises send an important message to any potential adversary: ‘Nato is ready.’
‘Nato is there to defend all our allies, and this exercise sends a message about our ability to transport a large number of troops, equipment across the Atlantic, across Europe and also to project maritime power,’ he said aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Mr Stoltenberg will chair a Nato summit in Brussels on June 14, with US President Joe Biden and his counterparts keen to usher in a new era of transatlantic co-operation, as troops leave its longest-ever mission in Afghanistan while tensions mount with Russia, and increasingly China.
The war games tie in two new Nato command centres, one in Norfolk, Virginia; the other in Ulm, Germany.
Part of the focus of its first phase was to protect the undersea cables that carry masses of commercial and communications data between the US and Europe.
Nato says Russia is mapping the cables’ routing and might have darker intentions.
‘We all lulled ourselves into thinking that the Atlantic was a benign region in which there was not anything bad going on, and we could just use it as a free highway,’ said Norfolk’s commander, US Navy Vice-Admiral Andrew Lewis.
‘There are nations are out there mapping those cables. They may be doing something else bad. We have to be aware of that and answer that.’
USS The Sullivans, an Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer, leads Spanish frigate ESPS Mendez Nunez during exercises in the Atlantic on Friday
The Nato mission is dubbed Steadfast Defender 2021. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: ‘Exercise steadfast defender 2021 will test Nato’s readiness and military mobility – with forces deploying across land and sea, all the way from north america to the black sea region and off the coast of Portugal. With over 9,000 troops from more than 20 allies and partners, the exercise demonstrates that Nato has the capabilities and the resolve to protect all allies against any threat.’
The UK Carrier Strike Group includes ships from the United States Navy, The Dutch Navy, and Marines from the US Marine Corps. As well as UK Frigates, Destroyers, two RFA supply ships and air assets from 617 Sqn, 820 NAS, 815 NAS and 845 NAS.
Portugal’s NRP Tridente submarine leads the ships in the Atlantic on Tuesday morning
Pictures issued by the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday show the vessels sailing in the Atlantic on Friday
The flotilla of Nato vessels off Portugal on Friday. They included the USS Iwo Jima, USS San Antonio and USS Carter Hall
Nato says its policy towards Russia is based on two pillars: strong military deterrence and dialogue. But high-level meetings between the two historic foes are rare, and European officials insist Putin is becoming increasingly authoritarian and distancing himself from the West.
Britain was the main battlefield ally of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and, alongside France, the principal military power in the European Union. But its 2016 vote to leave the EU had raised questions about its global role.
Partly in response to those concerns, London announced its biggest military spending increase since the Cold War late last year and has been touting the clout of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
She will exercise with naval vessels from the United States, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, along the seven month voyage.
Britain, like China, now has two aircraft carriers, both countries dwarfed by the United States’ 11. The new 65,000-tonne vessel carries eight British F-35Bs and 10 U.S. F-35s as well as 250 U.S. marines as part of its 1,700-strong crew.
It will lead two destroyers, two frigates, a submarine and two support ships on its journey of 26,000 nautical miles, joined by a U.S. destroyer and a frigate from the Dutch navy.
Asked about British efforts to step up influence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s rising power – a strategy also followed by the European Union and supported by NATO – Moorhouse said: ‘We want to uphold international norms … our presence out there is absolutely key.’
China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.
The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims there, sending warships regularly through the waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation. About $3 trillion worth of trade passes through it each year.
The force includes American warships USS The Sullivans, as part of the UK Carrier Strike Group, as well as the USS Iwo Jima, USS San Antonio and USS Carter Hall as part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group
A Portuguese submarine is seen leading the ships on Friday as they travel off the coast of the Atlantic as part of the Nato exercises
This is the route the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG) will take, reaching Japan this summer after travelling via a number of hotspots that will upset Russia and China
Inside Britain’s most powerful warship, HMS Queen Elizabeth
At 280 metres long, with a lifespan of half a century and a flight deck of four acres, HMS Queen Elizabeth is Britain’s largest and most powerful warship ever built.
Here are the facts and figures behind the vessel which was officially commissioned into the Royal Navy December 7, 2017
HMS Queen Elizabeth, pictured, weighs some 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed of 25 knots and a four-acre flight deck
- The aircraft carrier weighs 65,000 tonnes and has a top speed in excess of 25 knots.
- A number of ship building yards around the country were involved in the build – these include Govan and Scotstoun in Glasgow, Appledore in Devon, Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, Wirral, A&P on the Tyne in Newcastle and Portsmouth.
- A total of 10,000 people worked on construction of the ship, made up in sections at yards around the UK and transported to Rosyth, Fife, where it was assembled.
- It is the second ship in the Royal Navy to be named Queen Elizabeth.
- The ship has a crew of around 700, that will increase to 1,600 when a full complement of F-35B jets and Crowsnest helicopters are embarked.
- There are 364,000 metres of pipes inside the ship, and from keel to masthead she measures 56 metres, four metres more than Niagara Falls.
- Facilities onboard include a chapel, a medical centre and 12-bed ward, staffed with GPs, a nurse and medical assistants, as well as a dentist and dental nurse.
- There are also five gyms on the warship which include a cardiovascular suite, two free weight rooms and a boxing gym.
- Regular fitness circuit sessions and sporting activities such as basketball and tug of war are held in the hangar and on the flight deck, with weights and other items stored inside the flight deck ramp.
- The Captain of the ship was Angus Essenhigh
- There are five galleys on the warship which is where the food is cooked and those on board eat their meals everyday. This includes two main galleys, the bridge mess and an aircrew refreshment bar.
- The distribution network on board manages enough energy to power 30,000 kettles or 5,500 family homes.
- Its flight deck is 280 metres long and 70 metres wide, enough space for three football pitches.
- The entire ship’s company of 700 can be served a meal within 90 minutes, 45 minutes when at action stations.
- Recreational spaces enjoyed by the crew feature televisions and sofas, as well as popular board games including the traditional Royal Navy game of Uckers.
- Each of the two aircraft lifts on HMS Queen Elizabeth can move two fighter jets from the hangar to the flight deck in 60 seconds.
- The warship has a range of 8,000 to 10,000 nautical miles, and has two propellers – each weighing 33 tonnes and with a combined 80MW output of power – enough to run 1,000 family cars or 50 high speed trains.