Control of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the UK Carrier Strike Group (UKCSG), consisting of the frigate HMS Kent, the destroyer HMS Diamond, aircraft including F-35B Lightning jets, Wildcat helicopters and Merlin, and support ships, were transferred to NATO to create a powerful operational group capable of acting in a vast area spanning from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea.

Three aircraft carriers have been under NATO command – with Britain’s HMS Queen Elizabeth deployed in the North Sea, Italy’s ITS Cavour and Spain’s Juan Carlos I in the Mediterranean – uniting forward forces ready to protect every inch of airspace. , waterways and alliance territory.

Warships from 21 countries are deployed in the exercise – codenamed Neptune Strike – and are under the command and control of NATO’s Naval and Fight Support Forces, a staff reporting to the Supreme Allied Commander. in Europe responsible for quickly planning and executing operations wherever necessary.

The Neptune Strike is an “enhanced surveillance activity,” which essentially demonstrates that NATO remains as strong and relevant as ever and capable of assuming the Alliance’s defensive commitments.

UK's flagship under NATO command

When any Royal Navy ship and its crew are under NATO command, they are carrying out tasks of vital importance to the alliance for a given period as part of the nation’s firm commitment to the security of its allies and partners. Once the operation is completed – or when the needs of the United Kingdom require it – the ships return to the control of the Royal Navy to receive new orders.

Commodore James Blackmore, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “Deterrence and defense of the Euro-Atlantic is at the heart of NATO, and our enhanced surveillance activity with the Neptune Strike is a clear demonstration of this.”

“This is the first time that NATO has commanded a UK Carrier Strike Group that I can remember, so this is a momentous event for the UK and the alliance.

“I look forward to a full week of activity ahead and much more to come; together, we are stronger.”

Following a brief pause in her deployment to Portsmouth last week, HMS Queen Elizabeth was soon involved in the Neptune Strike during a cat-and-mouse game simulation with a Norwegian submarine in the North Sea.

The HNoMS Utstein had the mission of “sinking” the aircraft carrier, and the Merlin helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron were to stop them.

The exercise tested the skill and tactical decision-making of naval aviators, who combined with a Royal Air Force P8 Poseidon long-range maritime patrol aircraft to hunt down the Ula-class vessel.

The Merlins used their sonobuoys (“underwater ears”) to search for the submarine.

UK's flagship under NATO command
The Norwegian submarine floats after being discovered by the attack group’s means.

Early in the deployment, the Merlin performed an unusual “fin transfer,” deftly gliding over the Utstein on the surface and moving supplies and personnel (in this case, Lt. Rob Templeton of the 820th) to and from the aircraft and the boat.

Thanks to this training, the Merlin crew has refreshed themselves in the complex art of evacuating wounded people from a submarine on patrol. The Neptune Strike exercise ends this Friday afternoon.

Royal Navy