Royal Navy HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) aircraft carrier has waved goodbye to the American F-35 fighter jets which have sailed with the ship across the world. The American jets and her personnel worked side-by-side the RAF/Royal Navy 617 Squadron, the ‘Dambusters’, carrying out 1,278 sorties, clocking up more than 2,200 hours in skies around the globe. The US Marine Corps’ VMFA-211 squadron – known as the Wake Island Avengers – which operates the same B variant as the UK, have now departed the UK Carrier Strike Group after six months of operations and exercises. They also carried out 44 missions in support of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve – conducting air strikes against Daesh. HMS Queen Elizabeth is the lead ship of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the Fleet Flagship of the Royal Navy
Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, said: “The CSG21 deployment has seen VMFA-211, a US Marine Corps F-35B squadron, integrated throughout. It has been the most tangible demonstration of the UK and US special relationship and our united efforts to ensure stability, security and freedom of the seas. As the UK Carrier Strike Group says farewell to our Marine Corps colleagues, I wish to thank them for their commitment, loyalty, professionalism and great humour. The achievements on this deployment have been ground-breaking and raised the bar in terms of integration. As the saying goes; if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go strong then go together. Semper fidelis.”
“Today we bade farewell to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 of the United States Marine Corps. The ten F-35B of VMFA-211 undertook their final launch from HMS Queen Elizabeth bringing to a close 16 months of integration with the United Kingdom Carrier Strike Group. Embarked for the whole of CSG21, forging ever greater links between the UK and the US, VMFA-211 and the 200 plus Marines have been an integral part of the inaugural deployment. Operating with a range of allies, especially the US, provides an invaluable opportunity to gain further experience of the highly capable Lightning F-35B with Merlin and Wildcat helicopters from the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers,” said Captain James Blackmore, Royal Navy Air Wing and Strike Warfare Commander.
As well as the US Marine Corps, US Navy ship USS The Sullivans also joined the UK Carrier Strike Group on its maiden operational deployment. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer left the task group recently, returning to Mayport in Florida. The UK Carrier Strike Group (UKCSG) is a carrier battle group of the Royal Navy. It has existed in various forms since the mid-2000s. Between 2006 and 2011, the formation centered around the Royal Navy’s Invincible-class aircraft carriers until the retirement of their Harrier GR9 strike aircraft in 2011 as a result of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The UKCSG subsequently returned in February 2015 ahead of the entry into service of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and HMS Prince of Wales (R09). The aim of the CSG is to facilitate carrier-enabled power projection.