Britain’s two new aircraft carriers have been conducting simultaneous F-35B fast jet operations for the first time – thousands of miles apart.
Separated by 7,000 miles, HMS Prince of Wales in the North Sea and HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Pacific have been launching and recovering the stealth strike fighter on round-the-clock sorties.
Until now, the ships have embarked the fifth-generation jets but never have the two 65,000-tonne behemoths launched the fighters from their flight decks at the same time.
That’s now changed with HMS Prince of Wales exercising with the RAF’s 207 Squadron in waters close to the UK, while, on the other side of the world, HMS Queen Elizabeth carries out flying operations over the Pacific with her jets from 617 Squadron and VMFA-211 of the US Marine Corps.
“This is an extraordinary achievement for the Royal Navy and represents the true global reach we have in this current era,” said First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.
“It demonstrates the enduring strength of our alliances and partnerships and is the result of decades of work and dedication to achieve this feat with the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers.”
Three UK F-35Bs from 207 Squadron are currently on board HMS Prince of Wales as she goes through the final demanding stages of becoming fully operational this autumn.
Pilots are carrying out carrier qualifications day and night to ensure they are ready for missions ahead, while the ship is going through the world-renowned Fleet Operational Sea Training (FOST) program. This tests ships and personnel to the limit in order to qualify them for operations.
Later this month, HMS Prince of Wales will also take part in the largest military exercise in the UK, Joint Warrior, off the Scottish coast to test her ability to work alongside other naval, air force and army assets and as part of broader task group operations.
Commanding Officer, Captain Steve Higham, said: “It’s brilliant to see F35s operating from our flight deck and to have our friends and colleagues from the RAF and the Army on board with us.
“UK Carrier Strike is, at its heart, an inherently joint venture and one that is going fantastically well.
“We already see 207 Squadron as part of the HMS Prince of Wales team and they have brought alive our latest training package by simultaneously conducting F-35 pilot qualifications.
“HMS Prince of Wales is rapidly moving through the gears as the UK’s contingent strike carrier ahead of operations as the NATO command ship in 2022.”
Wing Commander Scott Williams, in command of 207 Squadron, added: “This embarkation marks the start of 207 Squadron’s affiliation with the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers for decades to come.
“Developing our relationship with the ship’s company, who have been very welcoming, has enabled us to re-qualify our pilots in operations at sea ensuring that they can continue to train the next generation and grow the UK’s maritime strike capability.”
HMS Queen Elizabeth meanwhile is fresh from exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and a port visit to Yokosuka, which was a key moment in the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) deployment.
The CSG deployment has taken the aircraft carrier and her supporting warships across the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian Oceans and into the Pacific, working with allies and partners along the way flying the flag for Global Britain.
Commander Mark Sparrow, in command of 617 Squadron, said: “The level of flying we have achieved so far on this deployment has allowed us the chance to really build our experience and understanding with the F-35B and maritime operations.
“It has been fantastic to be able to work with other nations and other aircraft, including squadrons of F-35Bs from the US and F-35As from Japan.
“We have taken massive leaps forward in learning how to maximize this fifth generation capability in Carrier Strike and it is great to see 207 Squadron and HMS Prince Of Wales continuing to build this.”