The 10-day exercise Saxon Warrior 2017 “allows both U.S. and U.K. naval forces a chance to hone our interoperability skills,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of Bush‘s Carrier Strike Group 2. “Particularly important is the alignment of U.S. carrier strike groups and the U.K. carrier strike group.”
Both navies — and one NATO ally — sent ships and crews to the exercise. But one key component is missing. While Bush deploys with an air wing including helicopters, radar planes, electronic-warfare planes and no fewer than 40 F/A-18 fighters, Queen Elizabeth still doesn’t carry any fixed-wing planes — and won’t do so until late 2018.
Ships participating in Saxon Warrior 2017 include the cruiser USS Philippine Sea, the destroyer USS Donald Cook and the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Helge Insgstad, plus the Royal Navy Type 23 frigates Westminster and Iron Duke, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Wave Ruler and the Royal Navy submarine Trenchant. Land-based British helicopters and planes have also joined in.
The war game includes simulated combat and shooting drills with live ammunition. There is reportedly a major anti-submarine component, presumably involving Trenchant hunting one or both carriers while, in turn, the escort vessels hunt the sub.
That Queen Elizabeth is exercising with Bush without an air wing is, in a sense, the point. The Royal Navy is still in the process of reconstituting its carrier aviation capability, having prematurely retired its Harrier jump jets in 2010 and the last of its three light carriers in 2016. Queen Elizabeth launched in July 2017 and should enter active service around 2020. Her sister ship Prince of Wales is scheduled to launch some time in 2017.
The Saxon Warrior exercise could help prepare the Royal Navy’s Naval Strike Wing for embarking F-35B stealth jump jets in late 2018. Bush anchored outside Portsmouth — Queen Elizabeth‘s future home port — in the days preceding the exercise in order to embark 65 British pilots, staff, maintainers and deck crew for training alongside their more-experienced American counterparts.
“This exercise is a great demonstration of the U.K.’s relationship with the United States who are helping us in getting back our carrier strike capability,” said Royal Marines colonel Phil Kelly, the British carrier group’s strike commander.
Queen Elizabeth herself is due to arrive at Portsmouth in early August 2017, having met and exercised with Bush en route.