U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs of the “Wake Island Avengers” Land In The UK For Joint Training With British Lightnings

An F-35B from VMFA-211 taxies in front of a RAF F-35B after arriving at RAF Marham. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

The US Marine Corps Squadron Will Take Part To Numerous Exercises Ahead Of Next Year’s Deployment On The HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier.

Ten F-35Bs from the US Marine Corps Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers” landed at RAF Marham on Sept. 3, 2020 to conduct joint training with the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron “Dambusters”. The aircraft, using radio callsign MAZDA 11/21, arrived in the UK a day later than planned as they had to delay their departure from MCAS Beaufort, after a first leg from their home base at MCAS Yuma, because of adverse weather on the transatlantic route.

According to local spotters, the F-35s arrived at RAF Marham were reported to wear modex CF-00, CF-01, CF-02, CF-03, CF-04, CF-06, CF-07, CF-08, CF-09, CF-25.

The Marines, after a quarantine during which they will use the base’s simulators to familiarize with the local airspace and procedures, will participate together with their British colleagues to numerous exercises in preparation for the joint deployment on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier next year.

RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Beck, welcomed the Marines after their arrival: “It’s fantastic to welcome VMFA-211 to RAF Marham for the first time and we are looking forward to working with them over the coming weeks to prepare for their deployment to HMS Queen Elizabeth.  We are planning to undertake a qualification period and then participation in two Exercises. These exercises will really put our personnel to the test to ensure that they are ready to deploy on Carrier Strike Group 21 next year and will be the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the F-35 and its interoperability working alongside our NATO partners.”

After local area training with the Dambusters, the Wake Island Avengers will take part to Exercise Point Blank with the F-15s from RAF Lakenheath and other NATO nations, before going to sea aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for carrier qualifications and Exercise Joint Warrior 20-2, which will last from September 21 to October 15. This exercise will bring together multiple units to train collaboratively in preparation for Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) next year and will also include live and inert weapons training during day and night carrier operations.

F-35Bs from VMFA-211 shut down their engines after arriving at RAF Marham. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

Once finished, the two squadrons will return to RAF Marham for the next exercise, Crimson Warrior, which will allow the F-35s to conduct high end synthetic live combat training, alongside other platforms, in a contested and degraded environment with this year’s focus being on Multi Domain Operations. The helicopters of the Royal Navy will also take part to the exercise during complex scenarios as a workup for the entire carrier wing.

Meanwhile, HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to Portsmouth for the last preparations before 2021 activities, including the fitting of the four 30mm Automated Small Calibre Guns (ASCG) and three 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems (CIWS) to complete the defensive armament.

While the destination of the first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth is not yet known, some detail about the composition of the CSG are already available, as reported by Save the Royal Navy:

Under current plans, HMS Queen Elizabeth will deploy in May 2021 with a submarine, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender (Type 45 destroyers), HMS Kent and HMS Richmond (Type 23 frigates) supported by RFA Fort Victoria and a Tide-class tanker. Planning for the air group continues to evolve and should consist of 8 UK and 6 USMC F-35s and 9 Merlins Mk2s of 820 Squadron. An unspecified number of Wildcats will also be deployed armed with the new Martlet missile.

Crowsnest will not formally achieve Initial Operating Capability until September 2021 but 3 of the 9 Merlins are planned to be fitted with pre-IOC standard kits. At least the CGS will have some kind of Airborne Surveillance and Control capability, even if not properly certified and complete. In a significant change of plan, 849 Naval Air Squadron, which had been the ASaC squadron equipped with Sea Kings and was supposed to transition to Crowsnest, was disbanded in April 2020. The role will now be absorbed into 820 NAS. The squadron will have two streams of observers that specialise in either, anti-submarine warfare or ASaC. The RN has just 30 Merlin Mk2 helicopters, airframes are in short supply.

Merlin Mk4s will also be deployed and maybe ‘FOBed’ (Forward Operating Base) on RFA For Victoria or the tanker. For parts of the deployment, the RFAs and warships may detach and operate independently of the main CSG. USMC V-22 Ospreys will not be permanently embarked on the carrier but, together with CH-53E Stallions, may be used to provide Maritime Intra-Theatre Lift to the carrier group as it moves around the world, supported by the global US military logistic support footprint.

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About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.