Briefing Room: UK Carrier Strike Group

Briefing Room: UK Carrier Strike Group

10 Aug 23
Posted by: Capt Andrew M J Ainsley
Message from the Editor

The Naval Review‘s Briefing Room is being expanded to include expert summaries on UK Defence institutions and formations. Currently on file are summaries of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) and, reproduced here, the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group (UKCSG).

“Carrier Strike offers Britain choice and flexibility on the global stage; it reassures our friends and allies and presents a powerful deterrent to would be adversaries. Protected by advanced ships, submarines and equipped with fifth generation F-35B fighters, the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing and with our allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances.”
– Cdre Steve Moorhouse OBE RN, Commander United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group, Operation FORTIS (CSG20)

The United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group (UKCSG) is commanded by a 1 Star Commander, Commander UKCSG (COMUKCSG), from a Queen Elizabeth-class with a standing headquarters of just under 50 specialist staff drawn from across Defence and allies. The Headquarters is permanently maintained at Very High Readiness and surges to an overall size of approximately 115 when activated, but with the staff footprint disaggregated and delivering some enabling activity from the home base.

The UKCSG is centred on a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier with its overriding mission to provide air superiority over its associated Strike Group; without air superiority, against modern threats the force is forever vulnerable. While organic ship-based air defence systems are valid, they are no substitute for the organic air power delivered by the F35B Lightning II fighters. From 2025 this air superiority will be guaranteed by 24 F35B operating in two frontline squadrons with an inherent capacity within the Queen Elizabeth-class to surge this number further. With protection assured the embarked squadrons can concurrently deliver deep strike, exploiting the F35B’s low-observability (stealth) technology to defeat an adversary’s defences and enable the mass of follow-on forces.

Measured by the sum of its parts, the UKCSG employs Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 frigates, Astute-class attack submarines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary supporting shipping, and a suite of helicopters, to deliver a world-leading warfighting solution capable of spanning waters at home and far afield, either on a sovereign footing or employing international contributors.

If the Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) offers the nation nuclear deterrence, then Carrier Strike affords the Government of the day credible sovereign conventional deterrence. Equally, the sight of the UKCSG operating organically on the limits of territorial waters can exert significant diplomatic influence, consistent with international law without further escalating a situation. Beyond this, the convening and cohering effect of a Carrier Strike Group cannot be underestimated; ‘international by design’, the UKCSG has totemic qualities around which partners and allies can aggregate and deliver an amplified message to potential adversaries.

In sum, the UKCSG provides a potent mix of capability able to range across competition, crisis, and conflict to present choice to the Nation. This choice continues to grow as the collective capability evolves through the decade and the Royal Navy normalises CSG operations at the heart of Europe’s leading Task Group Navy.