Members of the United States Marine Corps’ “Wake Island Avengers” recently headed not to the coral atoll in the western Pacific, but rather to the British Isles to take part in joint exercises with the Royal Air Force using the new F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and ten of the USMC's fifth generation multirole fighter jets arrived at RAF Station Marham, home to the British F-35s, earlier this month.
The Marines and machines of the Wake Island Avengers, which is based at Marines Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, will take part in exercises with the RAF's famous Squadron 617 “Dambusters,” which is training in preparation for next year's historic deployment onto the Royal Navy's new flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
VMFA-211 became the second fleet squadron in the Marine Corps to operate the F-35B Lightning II as their primary aircraft at the end of June 2016.
The Aviationist reported that during a quarantine period the Marine aviators will use RAF Marham's simulators to help familiarize themselves with the local airspace and procedures, after which the Marines and their British colleagues will take part in preparation for the joint deployment to the carrier.
“It's fantastic to welcome VMFA-211 to RAF Marham for the first time and we are looking forward to working with them over the coming weeks to prepare for their deployment to HMS Queen Elizabeth,” said RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Beck.
“We are planning to undertake a qualification period and then participation in two Exercises,” Beck added. “These exercises will really put our personnel to the test to ensure that they are ready to deploy on Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) next year and will be the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of the F-35 and its interoperability working alongside our NATO partners.”
Training and Exercises
The American pilots won't have time to take in the sites around the UK. According to the RAF it will be several months of intense training following the quarantine period.
Once onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth pilots from the Wake Island Avengers and the Dambusters squadrons will conduct carrier qualification to ensure that they are proficient to operate from the warship during both the day and night. The aircrews will also take part in live and inert weapons training ahead of CSG21 next year.
After the drills, the two units will then conduct Exercise Joint Warrior, operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will bring together multiple units to train collaboratively—and after that the squadrons will return to RAF Marham for the Crimson Warrior exercise. That will include high end training alongside other platforms in a “contested and degraded environment” with this year's focus being on Multi Domain Operations.
All of this is to get the Royal Navy's new flagship ready for her maiden voyage next year—and perhaps that is when some of the airmen will get to take in a few sites, at least in the skies over distant Asian waters.
That upcoming maiden voyage is expected to begin in May 2021 with the Type 45 destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Defender, Type 23 frigates HMS Kent and HMS Richmond and supported by RFA Fort Victoria and a Tide-class tanker. Planning for the air group continues to evolve, but will likely consist of eight RAF and six USMC F-35s along with nine Merlins Mk2s of 820 Squadron.
The flagship carrier and the famous 617 Squadron and Wake Island Avengers will head to the South China Sea next year, and it is notable as the Royal Navy hasn't had a permanent military or naval presence "East of Suez" since the early days of the Cold War.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Image: Flickr