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UK to shortly stand-up second operational F-35B squadron

The already operational 617 Squadron is soon to be joined by 809 Naval Air Squadron as the UK's two front line units for the F-35B Lightning combat aircraft. (Crown Copyright)

The UK is to stand up its second operational squadron for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning combat aircraft in the coming days, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to Janes on 20 November.

With the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) 617 ‘Dambusters' Squadron already established as the type's first and so far only operational unit, the Royal Navy's (RN's) 809 ‘Immortals' Naval Air Squadron (NAS) will be reconstituted in early December.

The MoD told Janes that, as with 617 Squadron, 809 NAS will be a joint RAF/RN unit. “Both squadrons will operate as part of an integrated force,” the ministry said, with pilots, maintainers, and other support staff drawn from both services. As previously disclosed, both units will be located at RAF Marham.

Confirmation of the imminent stand-up of 809 NAS came around four months after Janes reported that the milestone had been delayed from the second quarter of 2023 because of manning problems, which now appear to have been overcome. The addition of 809 NAS will allow the declaration of 2023 Carrier Strike full operating capability (FOC), which equates to the ability to embark up to two front-line units on either of the RN's two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

As of September the UK had received 34 of 48 Tranche 1 F-35Bs (including one of which was lost in an accident while operating from carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in November 2021, and which is scheduled to be replaced). Tranche 1 deliveries are planned to be complete in 2025, at which time FOC for the type will be declared.

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