AIRCRAFT carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail from Portsmouth — seen off the Isle of Wight — as the UK Carrier Strike Group prepares to join allied forces for its largest and most demanding exercise to date.

Warships HMS Defender, HMS Diamond and HMS Kent also sailed from the city while HMS Richmond is due to sail from Plymouth.

Wildcat helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron have departed their base in Yeovilton to join the exercise.

Exercise Strike Warrior will involve more than 20 warships, three submarines and 150 aircraft from 11 nations and is a final test for the Carrier Strike Group ahead of its first operational deployment to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific.

The exercise, which will run for two weeks, will see the task group pitted against warships from NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 1 in waters off north-west Scotland to prove it is capable of undertaking high intensity operations against the most demanding adversaries.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “The advent of the UK Carrier Strike Group represents a substantial new injection of fifth generation combat power into the defence of the Euro-Atlantic region.

“It is therefore fitting that our final and most demanding test prior to deployment involves so many of Britain’s allies.

“As the ships and aircraft of the Carrier Strike Group assemble over the coming days, Exercise Strike Warrior is an opportunity prove to ourselves, and to the world, that we have what it takes to act as cohesive and potent fighting force at sea, under the water, in the air and over the land.”

Strike Warrior is the third and last in a series of pre-deployment exercises undertaken by the Carrier Strike Group over the past year, each more demanding and complex than the last.

On Friday evening, HMS Prince of Wales was spotted off the South Coast of the Island, and a medical transfer occurred off St Catherine's Point, Niton.