The dawn of the Royal Navy UKCSG: Similarities with a USN CSG

As the media and social media focuses on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s progress and tries to find fault at turn, people tend to forget that Carrier Strike, or Carrier Enable Power Projection (CEPP), as the official title is known, does not just rest upon an aircraft carrier, or even that plus the expected aircraft. Standing back, CEPP is about a larger group, known in United States Navy (USN) terms as the ‘Carrier Strike Group (CSGs)’. In Royal Navy terms, it is similar; ‘UK Carrier Strike Group’, or just UKCSG.

Historically, there was a UKCSG or Carrier Task Group from around 2006 to 2011 (could be earlier; this information again is from the good Colin Mackie’s site, http://www.gulabin.com). This CSG disappeared when the Joint Harrier Force was retired under SDSR 2010 and the last Invincible-class aircraft carrier was decommissioned. Now, with CEPP as certain defence asset, the Royal Navy CSG has returned , possibly with a vengeance. (That FOIA by the way, was asked by yours truly). As the media has constantly noted, the USN, and the Marine Nationale, having been aiding the Royal Navy in reforming carrier operations. The USN is of course closer to its British counterpart, and therefore the RN is shaping their CSG. One should already note that the vast difference between the USN and the RN; the former has ten or eleven times (depending on the operational state) the number of CSGs compared to British counterpart. These USN CSGs range from Carrier Strike Group One to Twelve–numbers six and seven have been removed). The new RN CSG will be just one (unless somehow the Royal Navy can expand in terms of budget and personnel) and falls under the command of the 2-star Commander UK Maritime Fores although actual command authority varies for each operation. Below is an incomplete list of comparing the staff of the RN’s CSG versus a typical USN CSG.

COMCSG/COMUKCSG Appointment Holders vs USN CSG:

There is a Commander, UK Carrier Strike Group, a Royal Navy Commodore (a one/1-star), currently Commodore Andrew Betton. This is the same rank as all USN CSG commanders, abbreviated as CCSG, although it may be the case that the USN CCSG gets promoted to a Rear-Admiral (Upper Half) (2-star rank) part of the way through his or her command, see for example, then Rear-Admiral Nora Tyson’s promotion. A one-star COMUKCSG will nevertheless certainly placed him as almost equal to his USN counterparts and other task forces from other navies. It is also natural to make him equal to COMUKTG, or Commander UK Task Group. In the USN, a CCSG becomes the Composite Warfare Commander (CWC) in operations or battles. I’m not sure if this is the same terminology used by the RN, but it is quite so since they are close allies and NATO partners.

His (the Royal Navy’s) deputy is named as ‘Chief of staff‘, currently
Captain Ken Houlberg Captain Ken Houlberg or see this link. This again is an equal rank to the various US CSGs Chief of staff, see for example, CSG 5. In the USN, the Chief of Staff deputises for the COMCSG and most definitely has command over all operations. This is mostly likely the same responsibilities for his Royal Navy counterpart.

The RN CSG has a Strike Warfare Commander (STWC) currently Lt. Col Phil Kelly, a Royal Marine officer and a former FA-18E aviator. This position of STWC is synonymous with that of CAG (Carrier Air Group) Commander in the USN, that is the boss of the Air Wing. In the USN CSG, a CAG is designated as the Strike Warfare Commander again during operations, indicating another shared terminology with the USN. The USN’s CAG is always a Captain (OF-5), and this news article says Kelly is a full colonel. Yours truly made a FOIA request that confirmed yes, the established rank for the UKCSG SWC is OF-5 (Royal Marine Colonel or Royal Navy Captain). Again, same tile and same rank. The first main difference is that there won’t be a fixed air wing for the UK CSG; rather rather there will be tailored air group. Second, USN CSG CAGs have a deputy who is the same rank as them, see for example. I don’t think a Royal Navy CSG STWC has a deputy of the same rank, although it could be the case in the future.

Next to the STWC, there is a Information Warfare Commander (IWC), currently a Lieutenant Colonel Oli Coryton. Information warfare is relatively new but critical in this era cyber warfare. On a USN CSG, the IWC is a Captain or OF-5, see this link for an example, and he has a deputy, ranked at NATO OF-4 or US O-5. Clearly, his RN counterpart is one rank below him and again it is doubtful he has deputy. Nevertheless, it is great the RN has a IWC in its CSG and rank difference should not indicate a vast difference in capability.

So far, I’ve shown there are a Commander, a Chief of Staff, a Strike Warfare Commander and an Information Warfare Commander in the RN/UK CSG, mirroring that of its American counterpart. But these are the most publicised positions on the Royal Navy website, media and social media. The others require bit for internet (not just Googling!). There are:

A Group Logistics Officer, see this LinkedIn profile and also this news article. I guess the former is more senior, maybe a OF-4 (same rank as IWC) while the latter is is his deputy?

A Fixed Wing Operations Officer, listed as a Lieutenant. He or she may be the number two fixed wing operations officer or the most senior–it certainly isn’t clearly from the profile. Certainly has a USN counterpart.

A Helicopter Element Co-ordinator, last reported as also a Lieutenant. I think a Lieutenant is rather junior; perhaps she’s due for a promotion?

Alongside, there’s also a Helicopter Operations Officer, rank not specified. There’s definitely a equivalent officer or officers in the Helicopter Sea Combat and Maritime Strike squadrons in USN Carrier Air Wings. This old FAS article confirms there is, but not sure if that’s the current title in today’s USN CSG.

An Air Battlespace Manager, again his rank and established rank again not stated. There’s definitely a US CSG equivalent, but I haven’t been it not even to find the exact title, not even in this recent Composite Warfare Doctrine. Anyone?

Under this guy, there’s a Liaison or Leading Naval Officer (LNO) to the Joint Force Air Component Commander. Such a position is essential since the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will often be operated with allies, certainly the US, in the Middle East.

A Plans Officer, see this LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t tell you what rank this position is, could be OF-2 or OF-3. I’m sure there’s an equivalent Plans Officer in the USN CSG and possible more than just one of them.

There is also a Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) Scientific Advisor(clearly see this profile. (Like Charlie in Top Gun; you do not salute him!). US CSGs may not have a direct scientist, but their carriers may or will have civilians, probably from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) or other US DOD scientific agency.

Who else? Well, in a US CSG, there’s definitely an Air and Missile Defense Commander (AMDC) in the USN CSG, usually the CO of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser for the CSG (more examples here and here). In the RN CSG. this role will most certainly go to the escorting Type 45 Destroyer, which ever one (other more than one?) is escorting the carrier. If it is a maximum of two Type 45s, well who ever is senior is the RN AMDC?

There are also a Surface Warfare Commander (SWC) and an Antisubmarine warfare commander (ASWC) or Under-sea warfare commander (UWC). Both these positions are commonly grouped under a Sea Combat Commander (SCC). In the case of the SCC or SWC & ASWC, these are all headed up by Commander of the Destroyer Squadron or DESRON. The Royal Navy at present and probably in the immediate future doesn’t have a dedicate DESRON for its CSG. The role of surface-strike and anti-submarine warfare would go to the commander of the Type 23/26 frigate(s) escorting the CSG, see for example HMS Richmond, HMS Westminster and for surface-strike HMS Montrose and HMS Iron Duke. Apparently, the USN DESRON CO works out of the US aircraft carrier due to better communications in its Combat Information Center. I wonder if the RN SWC equivalent will? Or is there a dedicated senior officer in the CSG for surface warfare or both?

USN CSG (well USN Ships and Commands) always have a Senior Enlisted Advisor in the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, or Master Chief Petty Officer, NATO rank OR-8 and OR-9 (see CSG 10 for a Senior Chief as senior enlisted advisor while CSG 5’s senior enlisted advisor is a Master Chief. I’m doubtful whether the RN CSG has a WO1 (there are no OR-8s or WO2s in the future) as senior rating adviser. Or maybe there is. Time for asking a FOIA question?

There are definitely other smaller departmental heads or leaders in the RN CSG who correspond with their UN CSG counterparts but these are main ones that can be found. Yours truly made a FOIA request to ask about the full structure but clearly TPTB won’t want to give it away.

In any case, we can say that 1) Carrier Strike or CEPP isn’t just about an aircraft carrier than may have leaks or sprinkler problems during its first few years; 2) the Royal Navy is serious about getting its carrier into full carrier operations and it is not some “vanity project” as Professor Paul Rogers from Bradford called it; 3) the RN CSG staff is clearly modelled after a USN CSG even though it may not have the same assets (such as a E-2D or F/A-18 G Growler or structured DESRON). It will be certainly interesting how all these officers and other ranks in the Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group. work together during any deployments.

PS: I know it may seem like breaking PEREC listing names here but hey, these are LinkedIn profiles that reveal job positions, past and present and hey some of the names are stated in news articles and social media.

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