“Our team was proud to operate alongside the UK Carrier Strike Group during this unique opportunity to hone the full scope of our mutual capabilities,” U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Will Pennington, commander of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and Task Force 50, said in a statement. “By operating together at sea, we deepen our coalition partnerships and extend our global reach throughout the region’s critical waterways.”
“The aircraft carrier is the ultimate expression of global maritime power,” U.K. Royal Navy Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of CSG21, added. “Queen Elizabeth, Ronald Reagan, and Iwo Jima symbolize the might of the U.S. and UK partnership, and the ease with which our naval and air forces can combine here in the Gulf of Aden, or anywhere else in the world.”
This is actually the second time that CSG21 has worked together with Iwo Jima during this deployment, with the two ships and others taking part in another exercise in the Atlantic Ocean in May. Queen Elizabeth has also trained with a Nimitz class carrier before, the USS George H.W. Bush, as part of another drill in the Atlantic back in 2017.
“Participating forces focused on the full spectrum of maritime warfare operations, practicing anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) tactics and procedures,” according to an official Navy news item. “The crews exercised their abilities to conduct precision maneuvering, hunt simulated enemy submarines, provide layered defense against simulated air and surface threats, and conduct long range maritime strikes against simulated adversarial forces.”
All of these missions sets are relevant for aircraft carriers and their strike groups operating anywhere in the world, but are particularly applicable in the Gulf of Aden and surrounding bodies of water. The Gulf of Aden links to the Red Sea, which is situated to the west through the highly strategic Bab Al Mandeb Strait. The Indian Ocean lies the east of the strait. Yemen to the north and Somalia to the south are major hotspots in their own right. Houthi rebels in Yemen have notably attacked ships belonging to a Saudi Arabian-led coalition, as well as U.S. Navy warships, with anti-ship cruise missiles and remote-controlled explosive-laden boats in recent years, causing casualties and serious damage to vessels in some instances.
From the Gulf of Aden, ships can sail north through the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, via the South Canal. Queen Elizabeth just came from that region, where she launched F-35Bs on combat missions in support of the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The ships of CSG21 also played a game of cat-and-mouse with Russian warships and warplanes, including Tu-22M3 bombers and MiG-31K combat jets armed with anti-ship and hypersonic missiles, respectively. The Mediterranean is notably a hotbed of submarine activity, as well.