F-35 fighter jets from RAF Marham have been deployed as part of the Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) which will see them take part in Exercise Strike Warrior in Scotland before deploying on operational duties around the world.
They will be based on the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The exercise, which will run for two weeks, will see 18 F-35 Lightning jets drawn from the UK’s 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, and VMFA-211 of the US Marine Corps, better known as the Wake Island Avengers take part.
It will also include the largest concentration of helicopters in a Royal Navy task group in a decade, with three Merlin Mk4 from 845 NAS, four Wildcat from 815 NAS and seven Merlin Mk2 from 820 NAS.
Following the exercise, the aircraft carrier will visit over 40 countries and will enable the F-35s to “provide tangible and impactful support to counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria” according to the MoD.
It will also be the first time UK fighter aircraft are embarked on an operational aircraft carrier deployment since 2010 and will be the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas.
Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key said: “This deployment represents the embodiment of the UK’s Joint Expeditionary Capability and utilising the F-35Bs in the fight against Daesh will further demonstrate our commitment to securing their global defeat.”
Colonel Simon Doran, the senior US representative on the CSG, said the deployment had been in planning for more than 10 years.
“It sends a message to potential adversaries, but also to our allies to reinforce should they ever be needed, we will be there, we generally always fight together so to deploy together really helps strengthen our relationship,” he said.
The 65,000 tonne, £3bn aircraft carrier, is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will be used by both UK and US fighter jets. However, HMS Queen Elizabeth has not operated without fault, with several water leaks reported over the years, most recently in April 2021.