Marine Corps F-35B fighters prepare for Indo-Pacific deployment aboard Royal Navy carrier
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 28, 2021
Ten Arizona-based F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters are preparing to travel to the Indo-Pacific region on a Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the Marines announced Tuesday.
Britain’s newest carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its strike group will set sail from Portsmouth, England, next month for a deployment that will visit 40 countries, including India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, the Royal Navy said in a statement Monday.
The F-35Bs embarked on the carrier include jets from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, “the Wake Island Avengers,” as well as planes from the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron, “the Dambusters,” the statement said.
Japan’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday welcomed the announcement. U.S. Forces Japan didn’t immediately provide details of what the short-takeoff, vertical-landing jets will do when they arrive in the country.
They will, however, join a growing fleet of fifth-generation fighters in Japan.
The Marine Corps on Oct. 16 redesignated an existing unit at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, in the country’s south, as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242, which became the second Marine squadron overseas to field the F-35B.
The first was Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which arrived at Iwakuni in January 2017.
Japan already operates conventional takeoff-and-landing F-35As from Misawa Air Base in northeastern Japan. The country plans to acquire 105 F-35As and 42 F-35Bs to operate from the helicopter carriers Izumo and Kaga, which are being upgraded to support the fighters.
The Yuma-based F-35Bs are already in the United Kingdom to conduct final training for the carrier deployment, according to a Marine Corps statement.
The U.S. and UK squadrons will form the largest fifth-generation carrier air wing in the world, the statement said.
The U.S. aviators are focused on providing “ready, combat-capable, 5th-generation aircraft,” Lt. Col. Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211, said in the statement.
The Queen Elizabeth displaces 65,000 tons, a bit more than half the size of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Joining the carrier on its maiden deployment are destroyers HMS Diamond and Defender; frigates HMS Richmond and Kent; an Astute-class submarine; and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring, the Royal Navy said.
The strike group will also include Wildcat helicopters from 815 Naval Air Squadron, Merlin helicopters from 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons and Royal Marines from 42 Commando, according to the statement.
Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen and U.S. Navy destroyer USS The Sullivans are also part of the strike group.