Jets on deck – HMS Queen Elizabeth embarks the largest number of F-35s at sea so far

Yesterday two squadrons of F-35B jets took off from RAF Marham and joined HMS QueenElizabeth in the North Sea at the start of the multi-national Carrier Strike Group exercise.

With a total of 14 jets and 8 Merlin helicopters, this is the largest concentration of jets to operate from an RN carrier since 1998 when HMS Invincible embarked 16 Harriers for deployment in the Gulf. This is also the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters to operate from a carrier anywhere in the world until now.


During the forthcoming GROUPEX, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be joined by a British SSN, HMS Defender, HMS Diamond, HMS Northumberland, HMS Kent, RFA Tideforce and RFA Fort Victoria plus other supporting units, to form a fully sovereign Carrier Strike Group.

Usually based in Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, in Arizona, VMFA-211 arrived in the UK just under two weeks ago. Landing at the home of the Lightning Force, RAF Marham after the trans-Atlantic flight, they worked up with 617 Squadron conducting the RAF led Exercise Point Blank before embarking in the carrier.

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “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.”

617 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Royal Navy Commander Mark Sparrow, added: “This is an incredibly exciting time for 617 Squadron as we begin a new era of partnership with the US Marine Corps building towards next year’s operational deployment with HMS Queen Elizabeth. You need to go back more than three decades to find the UK operating anything on this scale or complexity and this is a first for fifth-generation carrier capability. The era of big-deck, fast jet carrier operations is back”.

Captain James Blackmore, the UK’s Carrier Air Wing Commander, added: “We are going to learn a huge amount from operating F-35Bs at sea with the USMC, they have had them longer and we can share ideas and practices. But this is much more than that; this is the trans-Atlantic alliance in action, demonstrating that two close allies can not only fly from each other’s carriers, but can fight alongside each other should we need to. This level of integration offers a decisive flexibility in times of crisis, conflict or war.”