Six U.S. Marine Corps F-35 jets flew more than 5,000 miles to join their British counterparts as the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier prepares for its first worldwide deployment.
The F-35B fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, the “Wake Island Avengers,” flew from their home base in Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, in Arizona, to Royal Air Force base Lakenheath.
From there, they joined the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 21, in a series of NATO exercises in the North Sea. They will be flying alongside 617 Squadron, the “Dambusters,” a joint Royal Air Force-Royal Navy unit that also flies the F-35B. The combined US-UK wing will be the largest 5th generation carrier air wing in the world.
“Moving the Marines, aircraft and equipment to the United Kingdom required coordinated planning, complex logistical effort, diligent maintenance and seamless execution,” Lieutenant Colonel Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211, said in a press 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.”
Carrer Strike Group 21 will be sailing in its inaugural worldwide deployment later in the year. The inclusion of the VMFA-211 in the British order of battle will mark the first operational deployment of a combined US-UK F-35 air wing.
“We have no closer ally than the United Kingdom. Together, we stand committed to protecting our shared security, addressing security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, and reaffirming our steadfast commitment to the NATO alliance,” Yael Lempert, the U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires in London, said.
HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, are the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers. After several years without an aircraft carrier capability, the British Armed Forces decided to invest again in the concept. The last time British aircraft carriers saw operational use was in the first Gulf War in 1990-91. Before that conflict, British aircraft carriers had been pivotal in the recapturing of the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982.