The Carrier Strike Group: our nation's spearhead


The Carrier Strike Group

It’s the Royal Navy’s job to protect our nation’s interests, all over the world, every day. The role of the Carrier Strike Group is to act as a self-contained force that can work independently or as part of wider operations.

It is compatible with NATO and will often include our allies. That means while the carrier herself and her F-35 Lightning jets are ever-present, the rest of the formation can be made up of submarines, warships and support vessels from other Navies.

The Carrier Strike Group offers cutting-edge air, surface and underwater defence, but it is also a focal point for the worldwide democratic activity that is more powerful than any weaponry.

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 a ring of advanced ships, submarines and helicopters, and equipped with fifth generation fighters, HMS Queen Elizabeth is able to strike from the sea at a time and place of our choosing; and with our NATO allies at our side, we will be ready to fight and win in the most demanding circumstances.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse
Commander UK Carrier Strike Group

Combined power

Fast jets. Helicopters. Destroyers. Frigates. Nuclear submarines. Support vessels. Minesweepers. They’re all vital pieces of kit, each with their own role to play in the modern Royal Navy. But put them together, with a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier at their centre, and you have a fighting force that’s as potent as it is flexible.

Wildcat helicopter flying

Wildcat helicopters

The eyes and teeth of the Carrier Strike Group’s destroyers and frigates, the Wildcat Maritime Attack Helicopter is small, fast, agile, and packs a punch.

  • Wildcat can be armed with new Martlet laser guided missiles to take out small boats/fast attack craft, and Sting Ray torpedoes to neutralise submarines
  • Wildcat includes heavy machine guns for supporting board and search operations and providing overhead cover

Merlin helicopters

Two variants of the versatile Merlin are part of the carrier’s air group, one for Royal Marines, the second to act as the force’s eyes and ears. 

  • Merlin Mk4 for Royal Marines/search and rescue/general transport duties 
  • Merlin Mk2 to spot threats on, above and beneath the waves with its hi-tech suite of radar and sonar 
  • Merlin Mk4 armed with guns, Mk2 with guns, torpedoes and depth charges

F-35 Lightning fast jet

The F-35 is the world’s first fifth-generation fighter. Its role is primarily to suppress enemy air defences, maintain air superiority and respond rapidly to any threat.  

  • Short take off and vertical landing
  • 1.6 Mach top speed
  • 460 nautical mile combat radius

Tide-class Tanker

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s fast fleet tankers carry out Replenishment at Sea operations. That means they refuel the other vessels of the Carrier Strike Group, minimising any disruption to ongoing operations.

  • 63-strong crew
  • Armed with Phalanx guns
  • Can accommodate Wildcat and Merlin helicopters

Type 45 Destroyer

These warships are some of the most advanced on the planet. Their wide range of weaponry includes the Sea Viper missile system. This guided missile capability further protects the Carrier Strike Group.

  • 30 knot top speed
  • Can attack targets in the sky from 70 miles
  • Multi-purpose - from humanitarian aid to anti-piracy

Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are our largest and most sophisticated warships. They are fitted with state-of-the-art equipment and provide a global sovereign base for up to 40 aircraft.

  • Radar can track 1,000 moving targets up to 400km away
  • A range of 10,000 nautical miles
  • Can accommodate up to 1,600 sailors, aircrew and commandos

Type 23 Frigate

A truly versatile vessel, the Type 23 is able to contribute to any operation, anywhere in the world. They’re the core of our frontline fleet, with a proud history of protecting maritime trade routes.

  • 185-strong crew
  • 28 knot top speed
  • Harpoon anti-ship missiles fire 80 miles
Astute submarine

Attack submarine

Astute-class hunter killer boats are the most powerful attack submarines in the Royal Navy, combining world-class listening equipment with the ability to launch Tomahawk missiles and Spearfish torpedoes.

  • Agile, stealthy and manoeuvrable
  • Sea-to-sea firing range of 30 miles
  • Able to gather vital intelligence

Uncompromising force

The Queen Elizabeth-class carrier is more than just a warship or launchpad for the F-35 Lightning. The two ships are icons, standard bearers and symbols of a nation with a global role and global ambitions. The strike group is greater than the sum of its parts. Its manoeuvrability and potency are at the leading edge of global defence.



We can travel up to 500 nautical miles in 24 hours.



We can track up to 1,000 moving targets at a range of 400km.



We can strike accurately at targets on land, at sea and in the air.



We can draw on expertise from across all branches of the Royal Navy.

National investment

The Carrier Strike Group is built for the world, but also built in Britain, supporting businesses from BAE Systems to Babcock. More than 10,000 people and 700 suppliers have contributed to aircraft carriers that are global ambassadors for our nation’s engineering prowess.

The project to build Britain’s most powerful warships has created thousands of jobs, while safeguarding thousands more across the whole supply chain. And with the Carrier Strike Group having a 50-year lifespan, it’s an investment that will protect generations to come.

Ship building

700 +

shipyard jobs were created across the United Kingdom



apprentices were involved in build

International by design

The Carrier Strike Group will operate globally with warfighting capability, making the Royal Navy the leading European Carrier Task Group force in NATO.

Working in collaboration with more than 20 partner nations on operations and exercises will put us at the heart of the international community, allowing us to fly the flag for Britain.

As we deploy all around the world, we’ll constantly be protecting our nation’s security and economic interests, while also extending the hand of friendship and building the relationships that are crucial to diplomatic affairs.

Operational capacity

The Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier and its F-35 Lightning fast jets represent some of the most cutting-edge defence equipment in existence. They give us the range to act fast and with the right level of force, wherever we’re needed.

However, to truly maximise their capabilities, we need a wider team of submariners, support crew and partner organisations. They provide the intelligence, equipment and authority to execute vital operations over long periods.




A Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Tide-class vessel will always be part of the Carrier Strike Group. These fast fleet tankers can deliver fuel to other ships while at sea, increasing the length of each deployment. These Replenishment at Sea (RAS) operations require high levels of skill by experienced sailors.

Commander Jenny Curwood Group Logistics Commander for The Carrier Strike Group




Most of the Carrier Strike Group’s might is visible on the surface, but it’s a state-of-the-art Astute-class submarine that provides essential intelligence. Its world-leading sensors help to paint a strategic picture from beneath the waves, passing important information to other vessels.

Leading Hand Thomas Wilkinson Intelligence Analyst for The Carrier Strike Group




The vast array of weaponry across the Carrier Strike Group is more than just a show of strength. It allows us to carry out whatever peacekeeping operations are necessary. The ultimate firepower at the heart of it all is the F-35 Lightning fast jet, which is capable of everything from aerial combat to neutralising threats on the ground.

Lieutenant Commander Geraint Davies Senior Warfare Officer for HMS Queen Elizabeth




Diplomacy is always our preferred option. Relationships with foreign governments and partner forces are often key to preventing potential crises, from securing shipping routes to settling regional disputes.

Lieutenant Jeremy Vasquez US Navy Pilot, The Carrier Strike Group, Strike Warfare Planner