Ten US Marine Corps (USMC)-operated Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 ‘Wake Island Avengers’ arrived at RAF Marham in Norfolk, UK, on September 3.
During the deployment, VMFA-211 will work alongside Royal Air Force (RAF) F-35Bs – operated by No 617 Squadron ‘Dambusters’ – and their US Air Force (USAF) colleagues at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. The unit will embark with the ‘Dambusters’ on the Royal Navy’s newest flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), at the end of the month to take part in Exercise Joint Warrior. It will also participate in Exercise Point Blank with Lakenheath-based F-15s and other NATO partners during its time in the UK.
Gp Capt James Beck, RAF Marham’s station commander, said: “It’s fantastic to welcome VMFA-211 to RAF Marham for the first time and we are looking forward to working with them over the coming weeks to prepare for their deployment to HMS Queen Elizabeth.
“Preparation for the arrival of VMFA-211 hasn’t been without its challenges in the current climate, but I am extremely proud of the way that our personnel have worked to ensure that all procedures have been put in place to make this detachment a success,” he added.
Before they take to the skies, VMFA-211 pilots will conduct synthetic simulator training at RAF Marham to familiarise themselves with the local airspace and relevant procedures. Following which, F-35Bs from both the ‘Wake Island Avengers’ and the ‘Dambusters’ will fly training sorties to prepare for the carrier deployment later this month.
Once deployed aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, both units will undertake carrier qualification training to ensure all pilots can operate from the ship in both day and night conditions. This will take place before Exercise Joint Warrior begins and will include live and inert weapons training.
F-35Bs from both squadrons will operate from HMS Queen Elizabeth for the duration of Exercise Joint Warrior – which brings together multiple units to train collaboratively in multi-domain operations. Once completed, the aircraft will return to RAF Marham and undertake Exercise Crimson Warrior, where the USMC and RAF fighters will conduct high-end training alongside other platforms in contested and degraded environments.
Both training and the exercises will help prepare the crews of HMS Queen Elizabeth, No 617 Squadron and VMFA-211 for the aircraft carrier’s maiden operational deployment under Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) next year.
“These exercises will really put our personnel to the test to ensure that they are ready to deploy on CSG21 next year and will be the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the F-35 and its interoperability working alongside our NATO partners,” Gp Capt Beck added.