617 Squadron, ‘The Dambusters’, have been presented with a new Standard during a Consecration Parade at RAF Marham in Norfolk on Friday, 21st September, 2018.

The parade was a celebration of 617 Squadron’s distinguished Royal Air Force history, its 75th anniversary, the Royal Air Force’s centenary year, and the start of their new chapter as a Lightning Force Squadron, which is jointly manned by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.

617 Squadron personnel and their families, alongside 617 Squadron Second World War veterans, were there to witness the Consecration by the Chaplain in Chief, The Venerable Air Vice Marshal John Ellis. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, was the Parade Reviewing Officer, with Officer Commanding 617 Squadron, Wing Commander John Butcher, as the Parade Commander.

“It was an absolute honour to lead the personnel of 617 Squadron today as they received their new standard in front of the Chief of the Air Staff, distinguished guests and families,” said Wing Commander Butcher.

“I was exceptionally proud of everyone on parade today, and everyone behind the scenes, who have worked so hard this week to put together a fantastic event. The weather has been against them all week with wind and rain to deal with and a last minute change of location but they have all pulled together and should be justly proud of what they have achieved.”

617 Squadron has been reformed with the purpose of delivering stealth combat air power with the Lightning, capable of operating from land or from the sea, bringing cutting edge and game-changing technology in to front line service. The RAF say that thig echoes the challenges that the Squadron faced 75 years ago when formed to carry out the ‘Dambusters’ raids over the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe Dams.


  1. I wonder how many smiley faces they’ll be once they’ve completed their first 9months at sea on board the QE2?
    And then get the good news they’ve got a couple of months off before back out again.
    This is a total waste of effort the f35b is a maritime plane designed to operate at sea as often as possible. The RAF will simply starve the fleet of airframes as they did in the 1930’s the 1970’s and then under JFH in the naughties.
    Why join the RAF to be in the RN?
    At best their loss of personnel will go up through the roof, making the problem even worse and another excuse not to deploy.
    The f35 fleet should be in the RN where it belongs. Either that or we end up with carriers with no planes… as we did before.

    • (Chris H) Ali – with respect you are talking cobblers. The F-35B will be operated as a supersonic but 5th Gen Harrier. And let me remind you the RAF defined the Harrier’s use before the Navy got their Sea Harriers. It is not a ‘maritime aircraft’ at all. It is a multi role STOVL aircraft that will do both carrier strike, CAP and GA operations operating out of hard, carrier or austere locations as well as being the suppressing force for better loaded Typhoons. A role already perfected in the USA.

      And by the way the RAF never starved the RN of anything. Blame the politicians not a Force fighting its corner. Like the Andrew does with vigour.

      • Chris, you clearly have no knowledge of the difference between the Sea Harrier and the GR1/3 that it was derived from. The FA2 to FA3 mod was cancelled on the back of the RAF’s anti FAA nonsense. The RAF starved the fleet of GR9’s during JFH and everytime they have had control of airframes before.
        I suggest you study some of the history. Very sadly there is lots of it.

        The F35b is a maritime aircraft, it is fully marinised for use at sea! As is the F35c. The F35a is the one designed for use by airforces from landbases.
        The tactical air support role for UK forces(and all 138 airframes) should now be handed over to the FAA to save money and make the F35b force much more flexible. The FAA will then act in the same role as the USMC surge deploying and bouncing from the carriers (as all pilots will be FAA they will be well used to carrier ops) to forward bases if required.

  2. I meant to say QE but there you go a freudian slip…I’d imagine they’d be very happy if it was the QE2 instead of shift working on a rolling carrier at sea spending potentially weeks on end without any shore leave.
    Not quite the cruise ship they are being sold.

    • Personally I think f35b ought to be full RN too. 3 squadrons able to deploy. When no carrier needed, deploy from land like RAF. Inter-service rivalry. The combined force is a hangover from JFH which incepted when the sea harrier was binned.

  3. Here here Ali. The reality is the RAF did a huge disservice to the joint Harrier stike force. Frequently they redeployed to land theatre Operations leaving the Two carriers struggling to gain carrier qualified aircrew. It was a severe shock to the RAF when they realised operating from a carrier took at least a month of work up before being safe and carrier qualified, hence why dedicated FAA squadrons operate in the way they did. I fear that history will repeat itself and suitable training time will not be allocated to the F35 squadrons operating in the maritime environment. MOD should revert to dedicated FAA squadrons. Every other nation thst operates carriers has learnt this lesson.

  4. Just out of curiosity, does any one know the maximum number of active f35 squadrons we will have throughout the life of the programme (assuming we are buying all 138)? I understand they are currently planning for 4. Not understanding maintenance cycles or longevity, 4 squadrons of 12 planes does seem awfully few. Any info appreciated.

  5. I can’t really see the point of the RAF owning the F-35B’s, unless they plan to forward base them at bases in Poland or Romania. In the Cold War the RAF did forward base the Tornado and Harrier in Germany near to the front line.
    Even if the RAF acquired the F-35A, it would struggle to make a non-stop flight deep into Eurasia without air refuelling. Better to give the FAA have all the F-35B’s, at least they will be forward deployed on a QE carrier!
    The F-35 is due to acquire a major upgrade in capability when Block 4 build is release in 2022. Most likely the reason why MoD is holding back on procuring more F-35B’s at this point in time. Block 3 build would need to be upgraded at cost.

    • (Chris H) Meirion x – So applying your logic you couldn’t see the point of the RAF owning GR Harriers while the FAA had Sea Harriers? If its wrong for an RAF pilot to serve on a carrier (a daft idea IMHO) then it must be equally wrong for a NAvy pilot to serve off a land base. Same logic and equally as daft.

      The RAF has a very different role requirement for the F-35 than does the FAA but Navy pilots are equally as capable to fly those missions and vice versa. there is also the simple but very key factor that it is easier to keep the required number of pilots ‘current’ on carrier operations when you are sourcing from a wider pool of talent. And what happens when the sticky stuff hits the whirly thing? By your logic we would not have any RAF pilots current or certified to operate aircraft off carriers. Magic!

      With the shared system we have now we can source a very expensive but very capable asset to operate anywhere we choose on land or sea in strength and with extra resources available.

      I simply do not understand the 3 comments on here that say the RN should have sole use of the F-35B. Utter operational madness.

      • The main failing with the joint Harrier force was the lack of understanding of carrier Operations. It takes at least a month for a carrier air group to work up to full operational readiness, this fact was not appreciated by the RAF, they embarked for short periods thus wete limited in carrier qualification, for example not night flying qualified, limited IR and not integrated to naval Operational environment, carrier ops are completely different from land ops. This lead directly to the recommendation by the RAF that joint harrier ops in maritime environment wete not effective! Hence end of CVS. Every single nation which operates carriers has dedicated naval air squadrons. Except us!

        • (Chris H) Basil / Julian – I am sorry but replaying old fights and history about an aircraft that left service 8 years ago adds and indeed proves nothing. We are in a very different place entirely now. Any failures in JHF were learned and why the FAA and RAF have been in a joint (even joined up) working environment from the very first day of operating the F-35. Every F-35 pilot will be carrier qualified and as I say above having a wider pool of qualified talent allows faster surge capability, redundancy in resource and bigger back up. All pilots will be fully certified in all F-35 operations. And unlike the system differences between a Sea Harrier and a GR5 (radar for one) for example which entailed different certification and limits on operations (limits NOT caused by a lack of skill of RAF pilots as you infer) there are none in the RAF and FAA F-35s. They are a shared pool of identical aircraft.

          As to whether or how many F-35Bs would have been procured without the carriers is a pointless debate. We have two huge carriers that were designed and built round the F-35B. And in doing that we once again made a step change in carrier operations, the cost of procuring carriers and the flexibility to deploy whatever assets we need for any particular operation. Not too many F-35s needed for humanitarian or disaster relief but we sure as hell would be able to deploy a large number of helicopters and stores.

          The US Navy is locked into ‘big is beautiful and expensive is even more beautiful’ ideology driven by a political pork barrel system. Their choice. But we have delivered a hugely flexible pair of assets and done it for 60% the cost of ONE US carrier. And the aircraft that enabled that feat was the F-35B. But that does not mean we should have unused 5th Gen aircraft with FAA markings sitting on carrier decks and in hangars while we struggle to get other assets to where they are needed. Let alone deny the RAF its Harrier derived capabilities unique to the UK (and yes I know the USMC operate the AV-8B) because of some odd ‘FAA only’ doctrine.

          Sorry it really goes right over my head.

  6. I do hope you are correct, having worked in the environment for many years I am applying my experiences. It is not about running either the RAF or FAA down, it’s simply a matter of role within environment. If everything was treated one one plane then we would have a single organisation ranging from infantry, armour, fighters, tanks, subs and frigates etc..we don’t as it is appreciated the need for a level of demarcation and specialism. Operating aircraft at sea is significantly different to land ops, yes we have come a long way in recent years, but to have aircrew and tactical operatives highly skilled in such a wide operating regime is asking too much. No doubt time will tell.

  7. I think the point that is being made is that regardless of the perceived success or otherwise of joint force aircraft, 4 front line squadrons of F35Bs is not enough to sustain an enduring carrier strike capability. Planning for F35B to undertake ops from land bases just muddy so the waters. The US Navy are the best in the world at what they do by some margin, and the reason is they practice and deploy on carrier operations continuously with dedicated aircraft. The plans for UK F35Bs are ludicrous in my opinion, too much being asked of them with not enough assets. And btw, we won’t actually have the 4 front line squadrons for a long time. Sorry Chris H but I’m with the others, the jets need to be dedicated for carrier strike and they need to deploy and work up in numbers to be credible -12 at a time is just for show.

    • “4 front line squadrons of F35Bs is not enough to sustain an enduring carrier strike capability.”

      (JohnG) Well it is, presuming that you are planning for a routine availability of one carrier with 12 f35’s, with the availability to increase numbers if/when required. The main point, which is one I asked earlier, is what the maximum number of f35 squadrons is going to be over the life of the program.
      If we are going to only have 4 squadrons, then there will have to be some flexibility as to when and where they operate (and under who’s remit) otherwise we will loose capability. Permanently assigning all 4 squadrons to carrier duties will result, as others have said earlier, in planes sitting in hangers not being used (e.g. when the QE are used as helicopter carriers, or with only 12 f35’s). Obviously it would be nice to have 3+ squadrons assigned to the carriers and then other squadrons assigned to the RAF, but as always, we are currently (and will be for quite a while) constrained by costs and numbers.

    • (Chris H) John – Happy to agree to disagree but can I pick up on a key part of your argument for the F-35s to be a solely FAA asset? let me quote:
      “The US Navy are the best in the world at what they do by some margin, and the reason is they practice and deploy on carrier operations continuously with dedicated aircraft.”

      The total US Department of the Navy budget request for 2019 is $194.1 Bn, including OCO. UK Defence defence spending, including foreign aid, is budgeted at £48.3 billion ($65.2 Bn)


      So the US Navy has the monetary power to duplicate layers of capability we can only dream about. It has $ Bns of 100,000 ton carriers laid up in port at any one time. We have none. And then there is the small matter of the USMC duplicating and adding naval air combat capability with its own F-18s and F-35s. A capability bigger than the RN on its own.

      We therefore have to be better at what we do, be more flexible and think well outside the box. So to have this insular view we must corral all our F-35s on to RNAS yards and carriers is maybe a nice idea (one I think is wrong) but its something the country simply cannot afford.

      Given we plan to only operate one carrier at sea at any one time the FAA only require at most (4 x 12 unit Squadrons = 48) F-35s to be rotated to each carrier. What of the other 90 we propose buying? Store them so the RN can poke the RAF in the metaphorical eye?

      The F-35B STOVL attributes are an asset that allowed the building of two carriers at lower cost. That it adds 5th Gen stealth and advanced sensor suites are added bonuses. But the RAF defined how VTOL fighter bombers can be a huge asset over land and in close combat situations. You would deny our ground forces that asset and cover? Or would that be supplied by FAA pilots operating over land? While RAF pilots are denied operating over the sea?

      Sorry the exclusivity of the argument is simply unaffordable, replays the divisions of the past and potentially places ground forces in greater dangers.

  8. I agree most with Basil on this issue. I will put my original question in another way, what is the point of the RAF to have first priority of use of F-35B, and to station the F-35B’s at Marham for land OP’s?
    As I said in a previous post, unless the RAF plans to forward deploy the F-35B’s in Eastern Europe they will be of little use to the RAF. The Royal Navy is in much more need of the F-35B’s, to be(forward) deployed on the QE carriers. Can not the RAF wait until after 2024 to acquire F-35B’s for their own land OP’s? The RAF presently has insufficient crews to man/woman all the Typhoon’s procured!

  9. Hello all. Long time lurker with a question. I couldn’t find a more appropriate place to drop it than here so I ask for mod indulgence if if it’s in the wrong place. I’ve just returned from the Labour Party Conference during which I attended a few (spirited) discussions on defence.

    As you might imagine, the left isn’t really interested in defence and this leads to a lack of understanding. I and several others routinely make the argument that the people’s defence must be the proper concern of the people’s party. To that end, especially after Hard/Clean Brexit goes through, and a form of it will, we should bump defence spending to 2.5% GDP, to be concentrated on the RN.

    This will be a marker to the EU and the world, alleviate demoralisation in the forces and also serve to hopefully induce those Brexiters who voted on sovereignty (a significant number) to at least give our program a look and, even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for it, to at least abstain.

    Context over, to my question: Would this serve? Or should it go up to 3%? My own preference is for 3, but a Labour gov will be enacting a significant programme of public investment. This will pay off long term, but money will be tight in the short run. The tendency I’m a part of has been arguing for 3, but we can’t win that fight under current conditions. Will 2.5 be good enough electoral offer to at least tempt a few of you to give us a look?

    Many in Labour have said it’s useless to try to appeal to the demographic that follows defence, but as I said, the left, being generally uninterested in defence, has difficulty understanding those who are. I think we can get significant support with the right policies here.

  10. I have to say I’m with Chris. Try to forget the old them and us analogy.

    The squadrons being created here are very joint in there outlook, created this way from the ground up, think a USMC
    general ethos.

    JFH really was created out of necessity, trying to hammer a round beg into a square hole.

    The numbers game…. That’s the big question isn’t it gents.

    I would like to see the eventual creation of four 18 aircraft
    F35 squdrons.

    Two making a 36 aircraft air group for a max effort Carrier strike effect and 18 making a sensable number for a general airgroup.

    So four front line 18 aircraft squadrons, plus OCU and OTU with an in use reserve and attrition replacements would need the full 138 projected buy and create a sustainable force.

  11. Chris H – you appear to be labouring under a misconception wrt F35 numbers. We are never going to have 138 jets available at one time – that is the total purchase over the lifetime of the aircraft. The planing assumptions are for a maximum of 63 aircraft in the front line fleet – 4 v 12 available for ops, 12 in the OCU and 3 for trials probably based in USA. So the 48 have got to do all the jobs required of them. 48 isn’t enough (imo) to deliver a credible carrier strike capability, let alone provide support to Typhoons on land ops. The standard ratio for an enduring capability is at least 4 to 1 and probably 5 to 1 to avoid over stretch. So 48 aircraft needed to provide at least 12 on a carrier 24/7. And that means most aircraft (and pilots) will always be doing something in that pipeline to stay qualified and operate. It has nothing to do with favouring RN or RAF, it doesn’t add to me no matter how much thinking out the bix you think the UK needs to do.

    • Cheers for clarifying plane numbers John. 63 sounds right when the total of 138 is considered. Be interested to hear where you get you 4 to 1 figure from, I’m not sure how accurate this is. I thought that the 4 squadrons of 12 would all be available 24/7, as the remainder of the 138 planes would cover maintenance cycles, slow buy rates etc.

  12. A pity the photos that accompany this article didn’t show the Royal Navy guard and detachment drawn up alongside the RAF guard of honour. Understandable though, for lets face it the Fleet Air Arm seem to be the only bunch of pilots who not only fly their planes superbly but also manage to shoot down those of the enemy. Maybe putting an RAF squadron on a carrier will enable the RAF to break this long-standing duck!!!

    • Draws attention to the similar weirdness of the BBC only showing the RAF pilots name on the side of an F35B on QE.
      Or maybe the RAF refusing to allow a flypast over London for the FAA 100 celebration a few years ago…because they were single engine jets!!! Errr Red Arrows? But not a single JFH Harrier!

  13. John G – no squadron can be on continuous ops ; you need time for rest & recovery. So, typically say 1 squadron on ops, 1 squadron recovering, 1 squadron in training/work-up preparing to deploy. That’s 3:1 minimum and you would ideally want another as contingency or to provide some slack. Obviously in peacetime this is not rigidly held to and the 4 squadrons worth will be able to be more flexible and do more. That’s certainly true for land based RAF aircraft. But we’re hearing the carriers may deploy for several months at a time – that needs aircraft and more importantly pilots to be on board all the time. That puts pressure and constraints on the use of your assets and generally needs a bigger commitment of resources to implement. Not impossible as some have correctly attested to on this forum. I just think it’s a stretch.

  14. For the record the last time the RAF engaged a hostile in combat was over Syria…in 1956! When they had a Canberra PR 7 shot down.
    Before that it was the late 1940’s. The most recent ace is Sharkey Ward, FAA… how much joinery there in celebrating his victories!
    They will starve the fleet of airframes to protect nonsense desk jockey jobs back home. As they have consistently done every single time they have had any authority over airframes not just for the FAA but also the AAC.
    617 in its current guise is nothing more than an excuse to justify waste. Waste of effort, waste of airframes and waste of money. Much needed money that should be invested in the carriers.
    At very best the RAF senior ranks are deceiving the crews of 617 into believing they will be rotated half way through the QE’s first 9month global. At worst they actually will rotate them at huge expense.
    These aircraft belong with the RN so they can be sent to sea to operate off the carriers.

    • Do I detect the smell of burning martyr?

      Or just another bash the RAF post.

      Who cares if the RAF has not engaged a hostile since 1956?

      They have been engaging numerous hostiles on the ground instead.

      I see no difference? Hostile is hostile. Lives of our pilots still at risk.

      • The point is the waste of effort and therefore money that would be better spent elsewhere in the MoD.
        It is a waste for these aircraft being anywhere else than with the FAA. If they are needed for close support they should be deployed as FAA assets away from the carriers to do that.
        The recruits to the RAF have not joined up to be sent to sea for months on end. Therefore they will either show up and not turn to (as happened before in the 1970s) or need to be rotated at huge expense. Money that should be better spent.
        Out of the 138 airframes, whereas as FAA assets they would deploy as many as possible to the carriers the RAF will restrict numbers /availability as they did under JFH and in the 1970s and before that in the 1930s. Its a natural reaction to a different operating ethos and its sadly a well trodden path.


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