Photos: U.S. Marine Corps Fighters Deploy with Royal Navy Carrier

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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 on board, it’s the largest concentration of fighters 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 full carrier strike group. It will soon join maneuvers for Joint Warrior, NATO’s largest annual exercise.

“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,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the strike group’s commander. “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.”

Image courtesy Royal Navy

Image courtesy Royal Navy

Image courtesy USMC

Image courtesy USMC

“You need to go back more than three decades to find the UK operating anything on this scale or complexity . . . The era of big-deck, fast jet carrier operations is back,” said 617 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Royal Navy Commander Mark Sparrow.

VMFA-211 arrived in the UK from Yuma, Arizona just under two weeks ago. Landing at RAF Marham after the trans-Atlantic flight, they worked up with 617 Squadron conducting the RAF-led Exercise Point Blank before embarking on the carrier. 

“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,” said Captain James Blackmore, the UK’s Carrier Air Wing Commander. “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 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.”

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