A US Marine F-35 Squadron Will Deploy on a British Aircraft Carrier in 2021

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Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on November 1, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Liz Wolter)
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on November 1, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Liz Wolter)

A Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter squadron will make history by deploying aboard the British Royal Navy's newest aircraft carrier -- the first deployment of its kind and one that could serve as a model for the new normal, a three-star general said.

Members of a Marine F-35B squadron are preparing to deploy on the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in 2021. The deployment has long been in the works, Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, head of Marine Corps aviation, said at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference just outside Washington, D.C.

"It's going to be a wonderful new way -- and I will offer, potentially a new norm -- of doing coalition combined allied operations with a maritime partner," Rudder said.

The U.S. defense secretary and U.K. defense minister agreed that the two militaries would deploy together aboard the new high-tech carrier when it first came online, he said. The aircraft carrier is the first of two in the United Kingdom's new Queen Elizabeth-class line, and its flight deck will include aircraft from the Royal Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, he said.

"Think about this carrier where you're going to have a squadron of U.K. F-35Bs; a [detachment] of U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs. You're going to have helicopters ... as well as the Royal Marines aboard," Rudder said.

The deployment will mark a "tremendous milestone in the progression of maritime interoperability with the U.K.," said Capt. Christopher Harrison, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon. The carrier will conduct pre-deployment training in U.K. waters in fall 2020 and spring 2021 ahead of its official mission, he said.

That training will culminate in a certification exercise prior to the deployment, Harrison added.

It won't be the first time the Marine Corps will have F-35B fighter jets aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Last fall, Maj. Michael Lippert, an F-35B test pilot, spent weeks testing the Lightning II from the carrier's flight deck.

Rudder said the squadron that will participate in the historic deployment has been chosen, but Marine officials declined to name it while details about how many aircraft will participate are worked out between the two countries.

The Marines are working with their U.K. partners as they prepare for the mission, Rudder said.

"They're working together ... on all of the things that go into making sure supportability is right," he said. "It has been a pleasure working with our U.K. partners on this. I think it's going to be a very interesting data point and operational success."

The Royal Navy isn't the only international military to join the U.S. in taking its F-35Bs aboard a ship. The Italian military is preparing to operate the F-35B from one of its carriers and the Japanese from aboard a destroyer.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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