U.S. Marine Corps and British F-35Bs Embark On HMS Queen Elizabeth For Joint Exercises

An F-35B Lightning II assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 "The Wake Island Avengers" shortly after embarking onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on September 22, 2020, off the coast of the United Kingdom. (Photo: Royal Navy)

The 14 Jets Represent The Largest Air Group Of Fifth Generation Fighters At Sea In The World

The Royal Air Force 617 Squadron “Dambusters” and the United States Marine Corps Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers” deployed aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on Sept. 22, 2020, and are now underway for their first joint group exercise in preparation for Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21). The USMC squadron arrived in the UK earlier this month for a training deployment.

The ten US F-35Bs and four British F-35Bs (according to some sources there are 15 F-35Bs, but images just show 14 ones..) currently represent the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea in the world. Together with the eight Merlin helicopters also deployed on the carrier, this is the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983, as stated by the Royal Navy in a press release.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is being joined by seven Royal Navy ships: Type 45 destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Defender, Type 23 frigates HMS Kent and HMS Northumberland, an unnamed nuclear submarine, Replenishment Vessels RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tideforce.  The UK CSG will be also joined by the Royal Netherlands Navy Frigate HNLMS Evertsen and US Navy Destroyer USS The Sullivans and will stay at sea for about a month to work for the first time with the entire Carrier Strike Group off the north east coast of Scotland.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, said in the press release: “The United Kingdom’s maritime renaissance has been unfolding over many years, as we introduced a new generation of ships, submarines and aircraft into service. But this marks the first time we have brought them together in a cohesive, potent, fighting force. HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operating with the largest air group of fifth generation fighters assembled anywhere in the world. Led by the Royal Navy, and backed by our closest allies, this new Carrier Strike Group puts real muscle back into NATO and sends a clear signal that the United Kingdom takes its global role seriously.”

F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “The Wake Island Avengers” and the United Kingdom’s Lightning 617 Squadron shortly after embarking onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on 22 September, 2020, off the coast of the United Kingdom. The two squadrons joined together VMFA-211 joined 617 Squadron onboard the 65,000 ton carrier as she sailed for exercises with NATO allies in the North Sea, forming the largest 5th generation Carrier Air Group in the world. “The Wake Island Avengers” are proud to represent the United States Marine Corps and United States of America while they serve as part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group. (Royal Navy Photograph by LPhot Belinda Alker)

Next steps

After completing carrier qualifications for pilots and crews, the CSG is scheduled to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior 20-2, NATO’s largest annual exercise, initially planned from September 21 to October 15 and now postponed from October 10 to October 23 according to NATO’s website, which will also include live and inert weapons training during day and night carrier operations.

This training deployment, together with the CSG21 operational deployment, represent the first time a squadron of American 5th generation aircraft will be deployed aboard a foreign vessel. The “Wake Island Avengers” also completed the first ever F-35B combat deployment in 2018, successfully supporting ground operations in Central Command’s area of responsibility.

A RAF F-35B preparing to land aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth behind a USMC F-35B already secured on the deck. (Photo: Royal Navy)

The Marines are excited to work with their British colleagues, as said by Lt. Col. Joseph Freshour, the commanding officer of VMFA-211: “The Wake Island Avengers are ready in all respects to work with the British sailors and aircrew onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. We are looking forward to deploying alongside our British counterparts.”

At the end of Joint Warrior, the two squadrons will return to RAF Marham for another exercise, Crimson Warrior, to conduct high end synthetic live combat training alongside other platforms, including Royal Navy helicopters, in a contested and degraded environment as a continuation of the workup for the entire carrier wing, while HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to Portsmouth for the fitting of the defensive armament.

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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.