Aug. 30 (UPI) -- The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed for the Untired States on Friday, leading a four-vessel squadron to an operational testing exercise.
The annual event, this year named WESTLANT 19, will be conducted on the east coast of the United States. The British ships will also visit Canada on the four-month tour.
The state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, preparing for operational deployment in 2021, is carrying seven F-35 Lightning II fighter planes and four helicopters, and is accompanied by the frigate HMS Northumberland, the destroyer HMS Dragon and the tanker RFA Tideforce.
"It's a massive enterprise of thousands of people that will deploy on this next deployment who will take the next step from being able to operate Lightning aircraft from this ship and put that all together with the broader capability set," said Commodore Mike Utley of the U.K. Carrier Strike Group (CSG), said in a statement.
The ships left Portsmouth, England, on Friday. The exercises will involve the F-35 Lightning II planes of the U.S. Navy, Marines and Air Force.
"Operational Testing is designed to put the jets, ship and supporting units through their paces," a Ministry of Defense statement on Friday said. "The tests allow the equipment and crew to operate under realistic warfighting scenarios to ready them for their first operational deployment."