Strike Warrior was the third and last in a series of pre-deployment exercises undertaken by the Carrier Strike Group over the past 12 months. MoD Crown Copyright 2021, POPhot Jay Allen
“Who fancies a few weeks away?” came the email trawl. Having spent 20 years in the RAF I was wise enough to query the task before volunteering. “We need someone to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth to help facilitate Ex STRIKE WARRIOR (Ex SW) delivery” was the response. As my sea-going history consisted of a P&O from Dover to Calais a couple of times, this sounded like something different and exciting so I put my name in the hat.
Feedback from previous maritime exercises that Inzpire had helped deliver suggested that training would have benefitted from an Inzpire employee being embarked on board and supporting the trainees face-to-face, therefore it was imperative that the right person was sent to support Ex SW. Although, as mentioned, I have no sea-going experience, as a Typhoon Qualified Weapons Instructor (QWI) I have led many missions, briefs and debriefs during large, multi-national exercises and as such I was more than qualified and happy to represent Inzpire as the White Force liaison. Noting I was to be the first employee from Inzpire to ever be embarked during an exercise, I was honoured to eventually be selected.
After exchanging many emails and filling in many forms, I was told to report to HMS Nelson bright and early on Friday 30th April, ready to sail the next day. Upon arriving early on Saturday morning, the first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the ship; it is massive!
As we embarked it was a hive of activity; although Ex SW would only last three weeks, the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) were not due to be returning to port post-exercise, instead setting off on its maiden world tour which will see personnel deployed for approx. 7 months on Op FORTIS. Therefore there was 7 months’ worth of kit being loaded, and lots of family and friends saying goodbye to their loved ones.
With my operational experience being from my time in the RAF, the next thing I noticed was the language; it would appear that the Navy have a different word for everything, very few of which I was familiar with. I was shown to my ‘cabin’ (room), directed to the ‘heads’ (toilets) and was told to meet other personnel in the ‘wardroom’ (mess) for a ‘wet’ (tea) or a ‘goffa’ (soft drink)!
After settling in, the next major milestone was the ‘Procedure Alpha’ departure from Portsmouth harbour where all of the serving members of the ship’s company lined the ship as it set sail, whilst thousands of members of the public waved them off with flags, bunting and cheers. I sat in the bridge and watched the spectacle unfold; it was honestly quite emotional, seeing how much pride the public have in their Armed Forces. It reminded me of parading through Oakham following my return from Op TELIC in 2008 and feeling genuinely moved by the displays of affection that the public showed us.
The first few days were spent, in all honesty, getting lost. I was averaging about 20000 steps and 70-80 flights of stairs a day, mainly due to the fact I could not get my bearings and every time I wanted to go somewhere new I had to go all the way back to the Wardroom and set off again!
The next few days saw F-35s arriving and landing on-board, and currencies being regained before the start of the exercise.
F-35B Lightning Jets from 617 Sqn RAF carried out launches and landings from the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth during Ex SW. Image MOD Crown Copyright 2021, POPhot Jay Allen.
Once I’d figured out where I needed to be and, more importantly, how to get there, Ex SW was a success from the start. The exercise exposed the CSG to a medium/large scale exercise, the likes of which some participants had not experienced before; however that’s why I was there. My role consisted not only of helping the flying squadrons - 617 Sqn and 211 Sqn of the US Marine Corps - but also ensuring mission products were working correctly and critical elements of the training journey such as final briefings were conducted to the best of the delivery team’s ability.
Alongside my role, in order to deliver Ex SW Inzpire had a small team of personnel embedded with JTEPS at RNAS Faslane and also a team based out of the John Collier Facility (JCF) at RAF Waddington. The team in the JCF were the exercise directors, and were using newly-acquired technology which allowed them to follow the mission, assess missile shots in real time, manage RED air to ensure training objectives were met and most importantly allow the crews to debrief with real time information of both BLUE and RED aircraft.
As the embarked WF liaison I was the conduit between the dislocated units ashore and both 617 Sqn and 211 Sqn. It was an excellent and exciting role and one which proved to be very busy – I had to juggle briefing each daily flying mission, planning future missions for the next day and then debriefing each daily mission, too!
All of the personnel I met during my time on Ex SW were excellent. There were just over 1500 people embarked, with all three British services being on board as well as a full Sqn of US Marine Corps personnel, plus exchange officers from both the US and Australia. Everybody was very friendly and keen to chat to that ‘guy in black and orange’. I also had the opportunity to watch the missions from the Force Ops Room which allowed me to not only watch the mission executes but also see how the whole Ops Room team were fully immersed in the exercise routine.
In closing, the aim of Ex SW was to ensure that the whole CSG were ready to deploy on Op FORTIS and thanks to the work of Inzpire and QinetiQ they were signed off by the Royal Navy hierarchy to continue their deployment. I would like to say thank you to all on board who made my 3 weeks so worthwhile, it truly was an honour to play a part in the early stages and I wish them all well for the next 7 months.
Me embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth during Ex Strike Warrior. MoD Crown Copyright 2021, LPhot Luke Unaisi
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