Personnel at RAF Marham are making their final preparations before setting sail as part of Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), the maiden operational deployment of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
As announced by the Defence Secretary this week, CSG 21 will see the aircraft carrier and her supporting ships travel over 26,000 nautical miles from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, and from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.
“Such a potent combination of multi-national military assets is a significant achievement for the UK and her allies. It comprises the largest air group of 5th generation fighters ever put to sea as well as the greatest quantity of helicopters assigned to a British Task Group in a decade.”
The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP
Logistics planning for the deployment have been underway at RAF Marham for the past six months. “The variety of equipment is vast, from a washer to an engine, and all have their own issues” said the Warrant Officer from the Logistics Support Squadron. “For example, an F-35 engine requires a crane and the right team needs to ensure its prepped ready to be lifted.”
And operating aboard a ship has its own unique challenges. “Space is at a premium, especially when there are quite a few force elements embarking on to the carrier, but equipment re-supply can be conducted using different support nodes on route.”
“It’s also important to ensure equipment being delivered to us is checked for Dangerous Goods and the policy is being adhered to with its movement. The team ensure that everything has been delivered by checking it and the paperwork properly to avoid the kit being rejected and not making the flight, or in this case the ship.”
The operation of Lightning is also not possible without the support of the 617 Squadron Mission Support Flight (MSF) which enables a cross section of activities from Intelligence support to mission planning.
“We have to ensure our pilots have everything they require to be ready to meet any mission they may be tasked with. Each and every deployed member, whether RAF, Royal Navy or civilian contractor, enables that mission to be successful. The atmosphere on the squadron is somewhat hectic but there is undoubtedly a very excited buzz.”
Officer Commanding 617 Squadron Mission Support Flight
Officer Commanding MSF added: “Ensuring our people and their families feel connected and supported is our top priority and is no easy task. Support from charities such as RAFA and the RNRMC go a huge way to help with this.”
And one challenge all personnel face is the very limited space available for personal belongings. Asked how difficult it is to choose what personal kit to take OC MSF replied: "Very; you have to prioritise!"
The CSG will initially participate in NATO’s annual Exercise Joint Warrior off the coast of Scotland which involves aircraft, ships and personnel from across NATO.