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Fallon confirms USMC F-35s to join maiden deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth

16 December 2016
Seen here about to launch from USS Wasp, the F-35B is to be flown by both the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy/Royal Air Force during the maiden operational deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021. Source: US Navy

The UK defence secretary confirmed on 15 December previously revealed plans to have the US Marine Corps (USMC) embark aboard the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on its maiden operational deployment in 2021.

The announcement was made by Michael Fallon during a meeting in London with his US counterpart, Ashton Carter, and confirms plans already divulged by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and US Department of Defense (DOD) to have the USMC operate its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) on the carrier alongside those fielded by the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF).

"As Britain's pre-eminent operational partner, including in our current fight against [the Islamic State], the interoperability of British and American forces is crucial," Fallon said. "Having British and US F-35s alongside each other aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on its first operational tour will further cement our close defence ties as Britain steps up internationally."

In July 2015 the USMC was the first F-35 operator to announce initial operating capability (IOC), and with deliveries progressing and squadrons being stood up the service is already advanced in ship trials of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft aboard its own Wasp- and America-class amphibious assault vessels. In contrast, the UK has received just seven aircraft to date (of which four are training/test assets), and will not formally stand up its first operating unit or embark on ship trials until 2018.

With the USMC being a few years ahead of the UK in respect to standing up its F-35B capabilities, the arrival of the service aboard Queen Elizabeth will help 'de-risk' the ship for the RN by providing not only the know-how of flying this new aircraft type from the new aircraft carrier, but also by providing the JSF numbers needed while the RN and RAF continue to build up their own joint inventory.

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