F-35 Fully Loaded for First Time on HMS Queen Elizabeth
(Source: Royal Navy; issued Oct 24, 2019)
A British F-35 Lightning stealth fighter ‘tooled up’ for the first time on the deck of a Royal Navy aircraft carrier.

Loaded on to this state-of-the-art jet from 17 (Trials and Evaluation) is the weaponry it would typically carry on a strike mission: 22,000lb of destructive and defensive power.

In this case the ‘bombheads’ on HMS Queen Elizabeth – red-surcout-wearing air engineer technicians – carefully loaded inert Paveway laser-guided bombs and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (for taking out aerial threats) on to the external pylons and bomb bay.

Fully-loaded, it’s known as “beast mode” by crews because of the firepower it delivers – nearly three times more than a Harrier, twice as much as a WW2 Lancaster heavy bomber.

To keep numbers of personnel on board the ship to a minimum, most of the process of getting the firepower from the magazines in the bowels of the 65,000-tonne warship to the flight deck is automated.

Instead the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System – unique to the Queen Elizabeth class – uses a network of tracks, upon which a number of weapon-carrying mechanical ‘moles’ move, remotely controlled from operator consoles.

The moles carry weapon loads on pallets to the ship’s weapon preparation areas or hangar via a system of hydraulic lifts which run through the heart of the carrier.

The system is highly automated – and fitted with safety features to prevent any wrong moves.

Once the air weapons have been prepared by technicians in the preparation areas, they are moved to the flight deck via another set of lifts, from where they can be wheeled on trolleys to the aircraft themselves.

A system like this has never been fitted to a ship before and allows weapon moves with far fewer people involved than more traditional manual handling methods, supporting a greater rate of weapon re-supply to aircraft and therefore a better mission sortie rate.

Six F-35s are now embarked on the future flagship off the East Coast of the USA, plus Merlin helicopters of 820 NAS (providing anti-submarine warfare protection) and 845 (general duties, search and rescue, commando carrying) as the Carrier Air Group hones its skills for the first time, building up to HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden deployment in 2021.

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Marine Corps F-35Bs and USS America Train Together
(Source: US Navy; issued Oct 24, 2019)
SAN DIEGO --- Approximately one dozen, fully-operational F-35B Lightning IIs embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) Oct. 8 during routine training in the eastern Pacific.

The F-35Bs are assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Lt. Col. John Dirk, commanding officer, VMFA 122, highlighted the importance of being able to conduct the training in a joint environment and stated the training was a success.

"The training went exceedingly well. We were able to sustain a high sortie rate, with a high condition of readiness, while interoperating with multiple ships and aircraft across a range of mission sets," said Lt. Col. Dirk. "To fight together we have to train together, and there is no better Navy-Marine Corps training than living together, briefing together, and flying off of Navy ships where we can strengthen our relationships, mature our tactics, and exercise the capabilities of the present for the challenges of the future.

Earlier this year, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps stressed the value of partnering Marine forces with surface combatants. Particular emphasis was placed on combining Landing Helicopter Assault and Dock (LHA/LHD) ships with superior aviation capabilities unique to the F-35B.

“This was the deployment of the largest number of F-35s ever put to sea, and for two weeks we put sortie rates to the test, deck cycles to the test, and multi-ship control to the test, all while stressing the communication links and tactics that will make us successful in any combat environment, anywhere in the world, as a joint Navy-Marine Corps team," said Dirk.

Capt. Luke Frost, commanding officer, USS America, said having the F-35s train with America was an opportunity to improve joint warfighting capability between the Navy and Marine Corps.

"America and VMFA 122 are a perfect fit,” said Frost. “Any action, at any level, to bring the Navy and Marine Corps together to form a more effective and lethal warfighting team is important work that America is proud to be a part of."

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