The NATO alliance will soon have another carrier strike group with which to project power around the globe, as the United Kingdom’s new flagship moves to speed up certification of the warship’s bow ramp in preparation for its first tour of duty in 2021.
According to a Wednesday news release by the USMC, 10 of its F-35B Lightning II stealth aircraft deployed to the United Kingdom were aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth when the warship set sail from Portsmouth, England, the day prior. The squadron, nicknamed “The Wake Island Avengers,” joined a UK Royal Navy squadron of F-35Bs nicknamed “The Dambusters” to form the largest single deployment of fifth-generation fighters anywhere on the globe at the moment.
In photos from the drills, the flight deck of the 65,000-ton carrier sports at least 14 of the stealthy fighters, which are of a special design allowing them to perform short takeoffs as well as vertical takeoffs and landings by pointing their engine thrust downward.
In contrast to US and French aircraft carriers, but similar to many other nations’ carriers, the Queen Elizabeth uses a bow ramp to lift jets into the sky instead of a launch catapult. USMC pilots use the F-35B’s vertical takeoff and landing abilities to fly from their own amphibious assault ships, which are too short to launch jets horizontally.
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, who commands the Queen Elizabeth’s strike group, said in the release that once the warship has its full complement of 24 to 36 F-35s, which will be “the largest air group of 5th generation fighters assembled anywhere in the world,” the carrier strike group will put “real muscle back into NATO.”
A statement by the UK Royal Air Force noted the present deployment is the largest air wing London has fielded at sea since that of the HMS Hermes in 1983.
The carrier is joined by a half-dozen UK Royal Navy destroyers, frigates and auxiliary ships that will take part in the Joint Warrior annual exercise held by NATO off the coast of Scotland between October 4 and 15. Until then, the carrier will be drilling in the same waters.
Where the Queen Elizabeth will go on its first deployment continues to be up in the air, but most statements point to the South China Sea or western Pacific region in 2021. The USMC has previously stated its F-35 pilots will accompany the warship on that voyage as well.
“This is the Special Relationship in action," Robert Wood Johnson, Washington’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, said in the USMC news release. "Our forces train, fight, and win - side by side - to protect our two countries.”