Portsmouth-based HMS Queen Elizabeth at 'high readiness' for NATO exercises

  • ITV News Meridian's Derek Johnson went on board HMS Queen Elizabeth to speak to the crew ahead of her departure

A Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier is standing ready in case it is deployed to counter attacks on shipping in the Middle East.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will set off on Sunday (4 February 2024) to the North Sea to take part in one of the largest NATO exercises in decades.

The Steadfast Defender exercises will take place over several months, across several kilometres and involve around 20,000 troops from almost all NATO allies.

It will use a simulated emerging conflict scenario to allow all participants to demonstrate NATO’s ability to deploy, deter and defend against potential adversarial threats. However, as Houthi rebels have been carrying out drone and missile strikes, there are reports that the UK may replace a US carrier in the Red Sea.

  • The ship's Captain spoke about being in a constant state of readiness as tensions rise in the Middle East

HMS Queen Elizabeth's Captain, Will Kane said: "As the captain, I’ve got 1,300 people on board who are operationally focused and ready to go left or right.

"At the moment, we're ready to go north, but as ever we're at high readiness to respond as our [government] choose.

"Deterrence is key to our defence policy and in order to have effective deterrence you need to communicate your capability and ensure that it's credible.

"We're keen to continue to work alongside our allies and partners. When we come back in several months' time, we will have exercised and integrated our air architecture.

"When you put all of that together you get the power of a strike group and the utility that it brings."

  • The Strike Group commander spoke about the importance of working with NATO allies

UK Carrier Strike Group Commander, Commodore James Blackmore said: "As NATO approaches its 75th anniversary, this is a crucial time.

"Our support to the alliance, the unity of the alliance has never been more pivotal in recent years.

"So for NATO to be emboldened to bring nations together, train together in a clear demonstration of capability is important and the UK is a huge part of that.

"I’m always working hard to run integrated and inter-operable. I need to do that so that at a time of crisis I can dock in with any other nation.

"It's more likely we'll go to any other scenario as a formed task group with other nations than as a sovereign one."

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