August 20, 2021 – F-35 stealth jets and warships of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group unleashed their firepower during high-octane live firing exercises with US allies as the Indo-Pacific leg of their global deployment ramps up another notch.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Kent, HMS Defender and HNLMS Evertsen of the CSG – which is currently on a seven-month deployment to Indo-Pacific and back – linked up with the Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Philippine Sea in waters close to an uninhabited tropical island for two days of intensive gunnery training.
The windswept Farallon de Medinilla outcrop – in the middle of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific – was struck by weapons fired from three F-35 jet squadrons (two from HMS Queen Elizabeth and the other from amphibious assault ship USS America) and the naval guns of HMS Kent, Defender and HNLMS Evertsen.
This barrage was called in by specialists from the United States Marine Corps – known as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) – who landed on the island tasked with coordinating firepower from the F-35s and warships, bringing a hail of lead and steel down on targets across the island.
This was the fiery opening phase of two weeks of training with US allies for the UK Carrier Strike Group, who are fresh from a port visit to Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands.
The intensity of the exercises increased throughout the two-day training, with air support being drawn in from F-35s on the first day before the CSG ships arrived offshore the following morning and established communications.
The training wrapped with F-35B, mortars and naval gunfire being coordinated together in an impressive showing of firepower.
Lieutenant Commander Conrad Rolfe, one of HMS Kent’s Principal Warfare Officers, said: “It was fantastic to demonstrate the ability to coordinate joint fire support with US Expeditionary Strike Group 7 today, making use of ships from the UK and the Netherlands, as well as F-35Bs. And what an amazing way to conduct my first live Medium Caliber Gun firing.”
US Marines landed on the island and set up mortar positions, before establishing radio communications with the force of allied ships spread out across the waters west of the island.
From there, the marines radioed in targets for Kent, Defender and Evertsen to launch salvos at from their naval guns, the 4.5in Mark 8 for the British ships and Oto Melara 127 mm/54 dual-purpose gun of the Dutch ship.
“It was a privilege to take part in this joint exercise which showed how HMS Defender can quickly and seamlessly integrate into any multi-national task group and contribute effect,” said Commander Vincent Owen, Defender’s commanding officer.
“For HNLMS Evertsen, it was a unique opportunity to conduct live joint fires with UK and US partners,” said Royal Netherlands Navy Commander Rick Ongering, Evertsen’s commanding officer.
“It is seldom that this variety of nations and weapons systems have the opportunity to train together.
“It was awesome to witness the combined firepower of ground, air and naval fires – a real show of force.”
Exercises between the UK Carrier Strike Group and the Expeditionary Strike Group 7 are now ongoing.