Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs assigned to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) No 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’ have conducted buddy-buddy air-to-air refuelling operations with a US Navy-operated Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet for the first time.
The successful completion of this training mission was announced by the RAF on October 7. The sortie took place in the Indo-Pacific region, where eight No 617 Squadron F-35Bs are currently embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) – the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) flagship aircraft carrier – as part of the Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) deployment.
The buddy-buddy refuelling operation was conducted while the Queen Elizabeth was participating in exercises alongside the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF’s) JS Ise (DDH-182) helicopter carrier and the US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) aircraft carriers.
Commenting on the mission, the RAF said: “As part of this interoperability training, the opportunity was taken to conduct what is known as buddy-buddy refuelling. The F-35Bs, flown by RAF and RN pilots, regularly carry out air-to-air refuelling from RAF Voyager aircraft but this was the first time they had refuelled from a US Navy fighter jet.
“A Super Hornet configured with external fuel tanks and [air-to-air refuelling] equipment provided a valuable opportunity to carry out this training and enhance interoperability between UK and US aircraft carriers and their respective carrier-borne aircraft,” it added.
During the same exercise, the No 617 Squadron Lightning IIs also participated in a joint flypast with US Navy and US Marine Corps (USMC) fighters over the combined fleet of carriers and their escort vessels. In support of CSG21, a detachment of ten F-35Bs from the USMC’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) ‘Wake Island Avengers’ have also deployed aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
In this interoperability exercise, these fighters operated alongside Boeing EA-18G Growlers, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIs from the USS Carl Vinson’s Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2), along with EA-18Gs and F/A-18E/Fs assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan’s CVW-5. While operating together, the strike groups conducted a variety of flight operations and air defence exercise scenarios, as well as simulated strikes against maritime targets.
Having been on deployment for more than four months, the UK-led CSG21 is now preparing for its return journey to the UK. During which, it will conduct further exercises with regional allies as it transits through the Indian Ocean, Middle East and Mediterranean Sea.