USMC F-35Bs Have Landed At RAF Lakenheath For Upcoming HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Indo-Pacific Deployment

USMC F-35B RAF Lakenheath
The CAG bird of VMFA-211 lands at RAF Lakenheath on Apr. 26, 2021. (All images credit: Stewart Jack)

USMC F-35Bs have arrived at RAF Lakenheath to deploy aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Split into two sections, each including 5 jets, a total of 10 USMC F-35Bs aircraft have arrived at RAF Lakenheath, UK. The first five jets landed on Apr. 26, 2021; the remaining ones arrived at the base in Suffolk, England, on Apr. 28, 2021.

The USMC F-35Bs aircraft belong to the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, and, in the next weeks, they will depart RAF Lakenheath to head to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, for UK’s new aircraft carrier’s first operational deployment. The photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack as the first section of USMC F-35Bs landed at RAF Lakenheath on Monday.

“Moving the Marines, aircraft and equipment to the United Kingdom required coordinated planning, complex logistical effort, diligent maintenance and seamless execution,” said Lt. Col. Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211 in a public release. “Now that we have arrived in the United Kingdom, we are reintegrating with our UK counterparts and focused on providing both the commodore of CSG-21 and US combatant commanders with ready, combat-capable, 5th-generation aircraft.”

One of the F-35Bs of the first section lands at RAF Lankenheath at sunset.

As part of the Covid-19 mitigation measures, VMFA-211 pilots will complete a 14-day restriction-of-movement prior to boarding HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Heading to the danger zone

On her maiden operational cruise, HMS QE will travel to the Indo Pacific region leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war.

The naval line-up is going to include: Type 45 destroyers, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond; Type 23 anti-submarine frigates, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond; and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s logistics ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring; along with an Astute-class nuclear submarine will accompany the British aircraft carrier along with U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans and a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Evertse. During the 28-week deployment, the 10x VMFA-211 F-35Bs will operate alongside with 8x F-35Bs belonging to the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

The two units have already carried out joint training last year, when 10x F-35Bs of the “Wake Island Avengers” landed at RAF Marham on Sept. 3, 2020 to prepare the 2021 deployment. After local area training sorties with the Dambusters, the USMC F-35Bs took part in 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.

Along with the 18x STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft (10 USMC F-35Bs currently at Lakenheath and 8 RAF F-35Bs from RAF Marham), the air component of the Carrier Strike Group will include 4x AW159 Wildcat and 10x Merlin helicopters. It’s not clear whether the latter will carry the Crowsnest AEW (Airborne Early Warning) system, although it seems quite likely. Here’s what we wrote in the article covering the deployment of the VMFA-211 to RAF Marham in September last year, quoting Save the Royal Navy:

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.

The CSG led by HMS Queen Elizabeth will set sail towards the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region, an area of rising tensions with China.

According to the Independent, “the UK Carrier Strike Group will carry out engagements with the navies of India and Japan, who are in dispute over land and sea borders respectively with Beijing, as well as the navies of South Korea and Singapore. All four countries being visited are considered the west’s allies in countering what is seen as China’s expansionist strategy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

The F-35Bs that arrived in the UK on Apr. 26 were: 169621/CF-01; 169607/CF-06; 169416/CF-03; 169608/CF-07; 169589/CF-04.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.