British Aircraft Carrier Departs on Landmark Deployment with Marine Corps F-35s Aboard

F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
A Marine with "The Wake Island Avengers" conducts carrier qualifications in an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, May 2, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps/1st Lt. Zachary Bodner)

U.S. Marines from an Arizona-based fighter attack squadron have joined a British naval crew to form the biggest fifth-generation carrier air wing in the world.

F-35B Joint Strike Fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 will carry out missions in the Mediterranean Sea, Middle East and Asia-Pacific region from aboard the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth. The ship left Portsmouth Harbor, United Kingdom, on Saturday. It's the Royal Navy carrier's maiden deployment.

The Marines flew their jets more than 5,000 miles in late April from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England. The Telegraph newspaper reported that 10 U.S. F-35Bs joined eight more from the U.K.'s 617 Squadron "The Dambusters."

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The Navy's Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans is joining the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group on its deployment. Navy aviation ordnancemen from the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis will also support the Marine F-35 detachment.

"This is a prime example of the U.K. Armed Forces stepping forward with our allies to confront persistent threats around the world," Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said. "It is Global Britain in action."

The carrier strike group, according to the ministry of defence, is "the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the U.K. in a generation." The mission has been in the works since at least 2019 and was made official in January when top U.S. and U.K. defense officials signed an agreement to merge some military forces to form the combined carrier strike group.

The 18 American and British Joint Strike Fighters will be the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas, according to the defence ministry. Heappey said the aircraft will "pack a potent punch" against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Ten Marine F-35Bs spent months training on the Queen Elizabeth last fall in preparation for the deployment. Marines typically operate the B-variant of the F-35, which can perform short takeoffs and vertical landings, from Navy amphibious assault ships.

The Queen Elizabeth features a ski jump-style ramp. Part of the Marines' training on the ship last fall involved conducting takeoffs from that ramp.

Marine officials said in an April news release that the unique deployment marks another sign of strength between the U.S. and U.K.

"We have no closer ally than the United Kingdom," U.S. Embassy Chargé d'Affaires Yael Lempert said in a statement. "Together, we stand committed to protecting our shared security, addressing security challenges in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, and reaffirming our steadfast commitment to the NATO alliance."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: US, UK Sign Agreement to Merge Forces for Historic Joint Carrier Deployment

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