Maritime Strike Warfare: Grey zone to Combat

Carrier Strike sits at the heart of a Royal Navy that is growing in size for the first time in a generation but as the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group prepares for her inaugural deployment many still question the utility of aircraft carriers. Commander UK Strike Force and Commander UK Carrier Strike Group discuss the opportunities and capabilities a 5th generation Carrier Strike Group affords a nation in a period of increasing competition. Be it the impetus for increased innovation and technological advancement within defence, the opportunities for greater integration with partners and allies or the ability to support the aspirations of a Global Britain, the aircraft carrier and it’s Strike Group is a convening power across all instruments of national power; Diplomatic, Information, Military and Economic.

Rear Admiral Mike Utley was appointed Commander United Kingdom Strike Force (COMUKSTRKFOR) in December 2019. As COMUKSTRKFOR he is the Royal Navy’s deployable 2* operational commander at five days’ notice to deploy and command operations and Commands the UKSTRKFOR Enterprise. The latter comprises the Maritime Battle Staff; the 1* Commanders of the UK Carrier Strike Group, Littoral Strike Group and 3 Cdo X, as well as the Mine Warfare Battle Staff, the RN Forward Logistics Site and the Maritime Deployed Hospital Group; 1* MARWAR, including the Maritime Warfare Centre and Maritime Capability, Trials and Assessment; and has an administrative function over COM FOST as the Tier 2 Collective Training TRA.

Mike Utley joined the Royal Navy in 1988 as a Seaman Officer. His early years were spent at sea as a Bridge watchkeeper, Navigator and a Principal Warfare Officer in various ships from patrol vessels to aircraft carriers with operational deployments to the Mediterranean, East and West Africa, the Gulf, Atlantic, Caribbean and Far East.

Commands at various ranks have included a Patrol Boat (HMS EXPLOIT), two Offshore Patrol Vessels (HMS LEEDS CASTLE and HMS TYNE), the Type 23 frigate HMS PORTLAND and the amphibious aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, during which he was awarded an Operational OBE for his service in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. He also served as Commander Sea Training where he was responsible for preparing warships, both UK and Allied, for operational deployments across the world. He commanded NATO’s at sea high readiness Task Group in the Mediterranean, conducting maritime operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. He assumed command of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group in 2018, driving the operational training programme and integration between HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and the F35-B throughout WESTLANT 18 and 19.

Shore appointments have primarily focused on the Ministry of Defence in London, including as the Military Assistant and Deputy Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of Defence Staff, the maritime staff officer within Defence Operational Capability and as the Deputy Head of the NATO and European Policy Team. He has also defined and managed project requirements within Defence Procurement and been responsible for the appointing and career progression of hundreds of officers as a Career Manager.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse was appointed as the Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group in January 2020. He joined the Royal Navy as a University Cadet and, following basic flying training, specialised in Airborne Early Warning with 849 Squadron. Primarily embarked in HMS Illustrious, he experienced a wide variety of flying in environments ranging from the southern Indian Ocean to the Baltic. Subsequently, as the Squadron Operations Officer, he enjoyed the challenges of front line operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Sierra Leone.

Moorhouse has subsequently combined his aviation experience with a wide variety of sea and command appointments. As a Principal Warfare Officer he deployed with HMS Chatham in 2003 for Operation Telic, providing naval gunfire in support of amphibious operations on the Al Faw peninsula before joining HMS Bulwark as her first Operations Officer.

Command appointments have included: the Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Severn and HMS Clyde; the Type 23 Frigate HMS Lancaster; the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s second aircraft carrier during the final stages of her build programme and most recently HMS Queen Elizabeth. He has also had the privilege of commanding CTF150, a multi-national task force charged with delivering Maritime Security across the western Indian Ocean.

Staff appointments have included Naval Career Management for junior warfare officers and, within the MoD, Capability Strategy – responsible for balancing financial resource with military capability, and the Operations Directorate, where he had oversight of Operational Capability and Force Generation across the totality of Defence activity.

An alumnus of the Joint Services Higher Command and Staff Course and the Defence Strategic Leadership Programme, Moorhouse was appointed OBE in the 2015 New Year Honours.