The future of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force combat air fleets, the F-35B, flew over their future carriers and RAF Marham.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“The F-35Bs are the most advanced fast jets in the world. Whether operating from land or from one of our two new aircraft carriers, they will ensure we have a formidable fighting force.
They are part of our plan for a stronger and better defence: more ships, more aircraft, more troops available at readiness, better equipment for special forces, more being spent on cyber – to deal with the increased threats to our country.”
The fifth generation F-35B jets are the most advanced aircraft ever built for the UK and will be operated initially by 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, known as ‘The Dambusters’ and subsequently by 809 Naval Air Squadron, ‘The Immortals’. Combined, they will transform the UK’s ability to project UK influence overseas.
The head of the Fleet Air Arm, Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE, said:
“Today marks a significant milestone in the nation’s return to aircraft carrier aviation and carrier strike. Both ships have been designed from the keel up to operate with the F-35B and the RAF and Royal Navy are working ever closer to see fixed-wing aircraft once more operating from Royal Navy Aircraft Carriers. I feel very proud to be part of it.”
The carriers will provide over four-acres of sovereign territory which can be deployed around the world, travelling at upwards of 500 nautical miles a day. Both ships are capable of carrying up to 36 F-35B Lightning II stealth jets.
Following the flypast at the QEC, the aircraft flew on to RAF Marham, Norfolk.
Air Vice Marshall Gerry Mayhew, Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, said:
“It was a proud and exciting moment to have the F-35B Lightning II fly overhead RAF Marham for the first time today. Alongside Typhoon, the Lightning II will offer the RAF and Royal Navy a cutting edge front line strike capability and also offer the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. I have no doubt the Lightning II will act as an inspiration for the current and future members of both services.”
It is expected that the UK will build a front-line fleet of four F-35 squadrons with each squadron having 12 jets. A fifth unit, an operational conversion unit, will also operate 12 aircraft.
The structure of the Lightning force is now somewhat clear.
- 17(R) Squadron is currently based at Edwards Air Force Base in the US and fills role of F-35B Operational Evaluation Unit.
- 617 Squadron will be based at RAF Marham and will be the first operational British F-35 unit in 2019.
- 809 Naval Air Squadron will also be based at RAF Marham.
- 2 more unnamed frontline Squadrons are to be established.
- 1 Operation Conversion Squadron will also be formed.
This information comes from Air Cmdr. Harvey Smyth, the commander of the UK’s Lightning Force, as told to reporters at a conference in London.