An F-35B has landed on the deck of the USS Wasp in a milestone year for the stealth fighter jet.
Courtesy Royal Navy
The US Marine Corps deployed the fifth-generation aircraft for the first time months before the F-35B makes its debut on Britain’s future flagship.
The jets will provide the aerial punch for HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales. The older sister is due to travel to the Eastern Seaboard later this year to collect the first of her fighter aircraft.
“Pairing F-35B Lightning II with the Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime,” said Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
The jets were flown by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 – known as the Green Knights – to the amphibious assault ship operating with the US Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
After HMS Queen Elizabeth completed her rotary wing flying trials with Merlin and Chinook helicopters, CO Captain Jerry Kyd said: “We are rapidly approaching our deployment to the United States in the summer when we will see the first F-35B Lightning aircraft land on Queen Elizabeth’s deck.
“The ship is performing well and the marriage at sea of the Lightning and our carrier in a few months time will be a hugely symbolic event putting on notice that the UK is on the cusp of returning to fixed-wing carrier operations at sea and a return to serious maritime power projection”.
VMFA-121 pilots will first practice and conduct qualification flights for the first few weeks before they head out for missions as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“This is a historic deployment,” said Colonel Tye R Wallace, 31st MEU commanding officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine air-ground task force."
USS Wasp’s CO Captain Colby Howard added: "Deployment of the versatile F-35B enhances the full range of expeditionary strike group capabilities with one of the world's most technologically-advanced air warfare platforms.
"With the specific upgrades Wasp has received, the Navy-Marine Corps team in the Pacific is better positioned than ever before to support our commitment to the security of Japan and the region.”