HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for maiden mission with digital workout

Britain’s flagship is at the centre of a global crisis as she prepares for her debut on the world stage.

The carrier’s crew and battle staff are playing out a simulated crisis – and how HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task force would respond to it in the real world.

The two-week-long Virtual Warrior is one of two final assessments the ship and command staff must come through before the 65,000-tonne warship leads her task force on deployment.

The digital workout picks up where the carrier strike group disbanded last autumn at the end of exercises off Scotland.

It will be followed by a live-action assessment during this spring’s Joint Warrior war game, ‘Strike Warrior’, after which the force can head to Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia-Pacific region on its Carrier Strike Group 21 mission.

Making use of an impressive combined computer training suite at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Virtual Warrior allows various scenarios to be played out – testing the ability of the Carrier Strike Group staff to respond to multiple incidents and issues, across a vast area.

At its largest the task group will comprise more than a dozen warships, support vessels and squadrons, including three dozen F-35B jets and helicopters – around 3,700 military personnel in all.

But there will be times when some vessels and aircraft break away from the force for specific missions – so the team on HMS Queen Elizabeth must be able to direct and advise their actions, as well as the core carrier group.

Each one of the ‘warrior’ exercises is more sophisticated and demanding, with Strike Warrior the final ‘tick in the box’ before we sail

Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Olver

“Virtual Warrior is about command and control – it may not be as exciting as being at sea, but it’s just as important,” explained Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Olver of the Carrier Strike Group staff.

“The carrier group will consist of numerous ships and squadrons, some operating at considerable range. It’s crucial that they are all thinking and operating in the same way and information is shared around them.

“Each one of the ‘warrior’ exercises is more sophisticated and demanding with Strike Warrior the final ‘tick in the box’ before we sail.”

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, who will lead the impending deployment with his staff, says such tests are vital to “master the complex art of strike group operations”.

He continued: “The success of our deployment rests on our ability to harness and direct different capabilities in the strike group for military, political and diplomatic effect. Virtual Warrior helps ensure we think, act and operate as a cohesive and focused force.”

A specialist team has been established to advise and gauge how the strike group personnel perform collectively.

“Exercise Virtual Warrior exemplifies how the Royal Navy, and the British armed forces, are adapting to an increasingly contested battlespace,” said Commodore Andrew Stacey, Commander Fleet Operational Sea Training, the organisation which prepares British and Allied warships for front-line missions.

“By combining the latest developments in information warfare and synthetic training with complex, large scale scenarios, FOST continues to represent the gold standard in training and assurance, both for the Royal Navy and for the UK’s international partners.”

Virtual Warrior runs until Friday. As for HMS Queen Elizabeth, she’s undergoing maintenance in Portsmouth Naval Base to prepare for her mission.