UK Carrier Strike Group declares Initial Operating Capability

Harry Lye 4 January 2021 (Last Updated January 25th, 2021 09:10)

The UK’s Carrier Strike Group has declared Initial Operating Capability (IOC), a significant milestone on the path to the group’s first operational deployment later this year.

UK Carrier Strike Group declares Initial Operating Capability
HMS Queen Elizabeth and its Carrier Strike Group. Credit: LPhot Belinda Alker.

Achieving IOC means all aspects of the Carrier Strike Group, including ships, jets, radar, and weapon systems, have been brought together and operated successfully.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said that the Carrier Strike Group’s naval and air elements had met the IOC milestone, with qualified pilots and ground crews being available at short notice for Carrier operations.

Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said: “This is a hugely significant milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and the whole country.

“This achievement is a testament to the determination of our service personnel and industry workforce who have delivered this first-rate military capability, a capability held by only a handful of nations. I wish the entire Carrier Strike Group well ahead of their first operational deployment this year.”

IOC was achieved on schedule following Exercise Joint Warrior last year which saw UK and US Marine Corps F-35Bs embarked onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. The exercise saw the largest embarkation of aircraft on a Royal Navy Carrier since 1983.

Full operating capability for the UK Carrier Strike Group is expected by December 2023.

On Twitter, Royal Navy Commander UK Carrier Strike Group Commodore Steve Moorhouse said: “Symbolically, this is an inflexion point. Until now the Royal Navy has looked to our government and allies to help deliver this project – we are now in the position to offer serious military capability and choice in return.”

Moorhouse added that the IOC meant the UK Carrier Strike Group was now at very high readiness and could be deployed at five-days’ notice on operations if needed.

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) research fellow and editor of RUSI Defence Systems Justin Bronk told Naval Technology: “Reaching IOC with the Carrier Strike Group is an impressive achievement, with a huge number of complex capabilities across the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force having been brought together and synchronised during a profoundly difficult year.

“IOC typically implies combat readiness with baseline capabilities, so it will be interesting to see whether the first operational deployment of the Carrier Strike Group this year involves a kinetic tasking.“

Last year, when announcing an increase in the UK’s defence expenditure Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that on its maiden deployment HMS Queen Elizabeth would deploy to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia.

Previously it had been an open secret that the ship would likely visit waters near China in a freedom of navigation exercise.