HMS Queen Elizabeth Welcomes UK and US Jets for Major Exercise
(Source: Royal Navy; issued Sept. 23, 2020)
An F-35B of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 became the first US Marine Corps F-35 to land aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. Together, VMFA-211 and the UK's 617 Squadron deployed 14 (or is it 15? MoD and Royal Navy differ) jets on the carrier. (Royal Navy photo)
HMS Queen Elizabeth has embarked the largest number of warplanes ever onto her deck as she prepares to take her place at the heart of a UK-led NATO Carrier Strike Group.

Two squadrons of F-35B stealth jets, the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), have joined the 65,000-tonne carrier as she sails for exercises with allies in the North Sea.

With a total of 14 jets and eight Merlin helicopters, it’s the largest concentration of fighter jets to operate at sea from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983, and the largest air group of fifth generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world.

In this month’s group exercise, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be joined by seven Royal Navy destroyers, frigates and auxiliaries, plus other supporting units, to form a fully sovereign Carrier Strike Group, ready to fight on the surface and in the air.

The Carrier Strike Group will be put through its paces off the north east coast of Scotland as part of Joint Warrior, NATO’s largest annual exercise.

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.

“HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operating with the largest air group of fifth generation fighters assembled anywhere in the world. Led by the Royal Navy, and backed by our closest allies, this new Carrier Strike Group puts real muscle back into NATO and sends a clear signal that the United Kingdom takes its global role seriously.”

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”.

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.

Their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Freshour USMC, said: “The Wake Island Avengers are ready in all respects to work with the British sailors and aircrew on board HMS Queen Elizabeth. We are looking forward to deploying alongside our British counterparts over the next few months, and we will work tirelessly as a part of this transatlantic naval force. We are proud to play such an important role in the generation of an allies’ carrier strike capability.”

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.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth, along with her 1,680 sailors, aviators and marines, is due to return to her home port of Portsmouth next month.

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Wake Island Avengers Set Sail Onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth: First F-35B deployment onboard partner nation vessel
(Source: US Marine Corps; issued Sept. 23, 2020)
PORTSMOUTH, England --- Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 embarked ten F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters onboard Her Majesty’s Ship Queen Elizabeth yesterday as part of the squadron’s multi-month deployment for training to the United Kingdom. “The Wake Island Avengers” are proud to represent the United States Marine Corps and United States of America while they serve as part of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG).

“HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operating with the largest air group of 5th generation fighters assembled anywhere in the world,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK CSG. “Led by the Royal Navy, and backed by our closest allies, this new Carrier Strike Group puts real muscle back into NATO; and sends a clear signal that the United Kingdom takes its global role seriously”

VMFA-211 joined the UK’s 617 Squadron “The Dambusters” onboard the 65,000-ton carrier as she sailed for exercises with NATO allies in the North Sea. This month’s overarching UK-led Group Exercise will see VMFA-211, 617 Squadron and HMS Queen Elizabeth joined by six Royal Navy destroyers, frigates and auxiliaries, ready to fight in any clime or place.

In addition to these forces, the UK CSG will be joined by warships from the Royal Netherlands Navy and US Navy to form the largest UK-led multi-national force in recent years, which will accompany HMS Queen Elizabeth on her global, inaugural deployment in 2021.

“This is the Special Relationship in action." said Robert Wood Johnson, U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, "Our forces train, fight, and win - side by side - to protect our two countries.”

Before the deployment, the CSG will be put through its paces off the north east coast of Scotland as part of Joint Warrior, NATO’s largest annual exercise. Joint Warrior will be an opportunity for the CSG to exercise the capabilities of 15 5th generation F-35Bs flown by VMFA-211 and Squadron 617. The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, sensor fusion, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, providing unprecedented lethality and access to highly contested environments.

“This deployment demonstrates that our forces are more than interoperable—we are integrated,” said Col. Simon Doran, Senior National Representative to the UK CSG. “During this special partnership, the US Marine Corps and US Navy will conduct carrier strike group operations, training to maritime power projection, and ultimately supporting shared security. Our alliance is stronger because we can deploy and fight together as truly integrated NATO allies”

This exercise is a historic moment for the United Kingdom and the United States which strengthens the special relationship between the two countries. For the UK, it will be the largest air group to operate from a Royal Navy carrier since HMS Hermes in 1983; as well as the next step leading toward HMS Queen Elizabeth’s worldwide deployment this spring. For the United States, it is the first time a squadron of 5th generation aircraft will be deployed aboard a foreign vessel and will prove that the “Wake Island Avengers” are ready to conduct operations in support of NATO.

The “Wake Island Avengers” made history in 2018 when the squadron completed the first F-35B combat deployment, successfully supporting ground operations in Central Command’s area of responsibility.

“The Wake Island Avengers are ready in all respects to work with the British sailors and aircrew onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Freshour, the commanding officer of VMFA-211. “We are looking forward to deploying alongside our British counterparts.”

VMFA-211 deployed for training to Royal Air Force Station (RAF) Marham in the early evening of 03 September 2020. The pilots flew from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, and then onto RAF Mahram, a distance of 5500 nautical miles. Since then, VMFA-211 has been conducting realistic, relevant training at RAF Marham with “The Dambusters”.

While serving as part of the UK Carrier Strike Group, VMFA-211 will use innovative techniques to combine efforts and resources while collaborating on complex mission sets to maintain our Nations’ global maritime military advantage. The Navy-Marine Corps team is humbled and proud to represent the United States and continue the special relationship with the United Kingdom in support of shared security.

(ends)

Lightning Jets Take Off from RAF Marham to Join HMS Queen Elizabeth for Major Exercise
(Source: Royal Air Force; issued Sept 22, 2020)
F-35B Lightning Jets from the Royal Air Force and United States Marine Corps (USMC) have left RAF Marham to join the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior off the west coast of Scotland.

The jets from 617 Squadron and USMC’s VMFA 211 Squadron have previously been carrying out training from RAF Marham. This exercise will see the jets embark onboard the aircraft carrier for the next stage of the Carrier Strike Group’s training programme prior to the carrier’s first operational deployment next year.

This exercise follows on from the recent Exercise Point Blank, which the jets took part in and marks a step up in complexity as the pilots and ground crew exercise from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

“We are looking forward to joining HMS Queen Elizabeth for the next stage of our training and work up ready for our deployment next year.

“This follows the excellent work that both 617 and our colleagues from VMFA-211 Squadron have been doing over the last few weeks along with the invaluable support from 207 Squadron and wider station at RAF Marham to prepare us for this deployment.

“This exercise will see the personnel from the two squadrons integrate with the ship’s company and is the next important step to creating a fully integrated Carrier Strike Group ready to deploy next year operationally for the first-time onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth,” said Commander Mark Sparrow RN, Officer Commanding 617 Squadron.

Exercise Joint Warrior is a biannual exercise that is run off the west coast of Scotland and is used by NATO, partner nations and all three services as an opportunity to conduct large scale inter-operability training. This will be the first such exercise for HMS Queen Elizabeth.

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