Largest deployment of F35’s just exercised in the Indo-Pacific

UK committed to more deployment in Indo-Pacific

IDD Insight

In a strategic development for the Indo-Pacific region, the largest concentration of F-35 fighter jets – a fifth generation jet made by Lockheed Martin — carried out continuous cross deck operations for 48 hours in the Philippine Sea in the last fortnight of August.

This was a part of US and UK exercise which aimed at displaying global intent of enforcing a rule-based order. The jets participated in continuous flight operations, flexing dual-carrier – and triple-F-35 squadron – capability during cyclic flight operations from August 22-24. 

US Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit load Inert ordnance into F-35B Lightning II on the HMS Queen Elizabeth: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Cavenaile

The two-day flight operations were the culmination of several days of interoperability and maritime strike training done by the USS America (LHA 6) led Expeditionary Strike Group,  the US Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship and the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth, which leads the UK’s carrier strike group. The two ships feature a total of three F-35B Lightning II detachments. Read details here

USS America operates with a detachment of F-35s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 while the Queen Elizabeth is deployed with F-35s from U.S. Marine VMFA-211 and Royal Air Force No  617 Squadron, making it a total of three detachments.

In July this year the UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on a visit  to the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in Hawaii announced “HMS Queen Elizabeth led Strike Group will operate with a US Carrier Strike Group, which combined, will be the largest concentration of F-35 jets anywhere in the world”. Read the details here

A General Atomics Advt

F35’s mean the very latest in tech and firepower

To put it in perspective these many jets would mean the ability to strike simultaneously at multiple targets at sea, in air and on land  over a radius of some 2500 kms. The planes can be refueled in mid-air to keep them flying further.

The F-35B  is a next generation multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology employed from both the USS America and the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

“The U.K. Carrier Strike Group offers the largest fifth generation air wing afloat today”

Commodore Steve Moorhouse, OBE, Commander of the U.K.’s Carrier Strike Group.

The US -UK exercise

The USS America Expeditionary Strike Group and the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group have been operating together in the Philippine Sea during August as part of large scale global exercise (LSGE) 21 which is global command and control exercise. It has a regional focus, to enhance integration of the US and its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

With many operations, activities, and investments nested under the LSGE 21 umbrella, these operations are part of the larger initiative. While sailing together, the strike groups conducted large-formation steaming maneuvers, anti-submarine and surface warfare exercises, and aviation integration events to enhance their capability and proficiency throughout all domains.

HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Centre during exercise: Source twitter

The USS America with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is tasked with responsibility to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

“This interaction showcased how quickly and seamlessly the U.S. and U.K. can fold together our combined air power, and execute highly intricate and sustained flight operations to devastatingly lethal effect.” Capt. Ken Ward, America’s commanding officer said.

HMS QE in Indo Pacific 

2021 marks the UK’s return to Carrier Strike with the first operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the carrier is designed around fifth generation aircraft. She has travelled 26,000 nautical miles to the Indo-Pacific.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its accompanying carrier strike group sailed across the Suez Canal — the strike group did it first set of exercises in this part of the world by conducting a two-day – July 21 & 22) ‘passex’ with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal before heading across to the South China Sea and beyond for a wider set of engagements.

It has operated alongside Naval and Air Forces from the United States, Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, the UK Carrier Strike Group and has undertaken a number of integration exercises designed to build interoperability between like-minded international partners in this globally significant region of the world.

A F35 on the deck of the HMS queen Elizabeth

UK committed to more deployments Indo Pacific

UK has committed to a more persistent presence in the Indo-Pacific. The same is defined in a policy paper by the Cabinet Office called the ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy”. It was last updated in July 2021.

“ By 2030, we (UK) will be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually-beneficial trade, shared security and values”.

UK Integrated Review

It also commits the UK to pursue deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific in support of shared prosperity and regional stability, with stronger diplomatic and trading ties. Read the full paper here 

The involvement of the UK’s fifth generation fighters with the Carrier Strike Group in significant for the Indo-Pacific region. The  UK has committed to a tilt in power towards the region to uphold democratic values, tackle shared threats. The Carrier Strike Group embodies the UK’s vision for an outward facing Navy.

UK will be working with close allies to develop operating procedures and capabilities while concurrently showcasing the agility of land and carrier-based aviation in the Indo-Pacific.

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