Tag: HMS Queen Elizabeth

Photo Of The Recovered Wreckage Of The British F-35B Leaked Online

No Comments
F-35B recovered
The wreck of the F-35B as seen in the leaked photo. (Photo: anonymous source)

The aircraft has been recovered last month and it looks like it is still pretty much intact.

An image, taken by an unknown photographer, showing the wreckage of the British F-35B that ditched in the Mediterranean Sea and was recovered by a chartered salvage ship, was leaked and started circulating online on Jan. 21, 2022. As we already extensively reported, the aircraft crashed while taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on November 17, 2021, as it couldn’t achieve enough speed to lift off reportedly because the engine ingested a “cheap plastic rain cover” or an air intake cover.

The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence announced on December 7 the completion of the operations for the recovery of the aircraft, which happened with the support of the Italian Navy and U.S. Navy. It took two weeks to locate the wreck and another week to bring it up, according to defence sources mentioned by British newspapers. The recovery effort was complicated by the location where the F-35 ditched, as it happened in open water with depths that can exceed, in some areas, over 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet), and by rough sea conditions while the operations were taking place.

Looking at the photo, which shows the wreck upside down on the deck of the salvage ship as it was being transported to an unspecified port, it seems that the F-35B is still partly intact. Some panels are broken or missing, with the engine nozzle and vertical tail fins possibly broken too (they can’t be seen clearly), but the airframe was not made in pieces by the crash. As the leaked video showed, the F-35 left the ski jump with a very low speed, so the impact forces on the surface of the sea were not enough to detach major sections of the airframe.

This also confirms the official statements about all the wreckage being recovered and “no danger or compromise to sensitive equipment on the aircraft”. Even if the chances of another country finding and exploiting any of the plane’s remains were small, the UK MoD didn’t want to take any chances for a good reason. National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove, as reported by the UK Defence Journal, told the Commons Defence Committee on Dec. 6, 2021:

“The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash. […] We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities, and you are quite right to identify them as being state of the art. The kinds of precautions and operations that we are undertaking at the moment are designed at least in part to ensure that the technology of the F-35B remains as confidential as you would like it to be. Those security aspects are very much at the top of our mind. My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is.”

Two F-35Bs during operations on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Photo: Royal Navy)

It is worth noting, however, that while the aircraft might appear somehow intact, the damage done by salt water while the aircraft was submerged for weeks might have made unusable most of the aircraft’s systems, reducing the risks of adversaries gathering useful data in the hypothetical event they managed to get to the wreck before the Royal Navy.

The lost F-35B was identified as ZM152, with modex 018 and construction number BK18, and the leaked photo appears to confirm this, as the serial can be seen near the tail despite the quality of the image. The aircraft was reportedly one of the most recently delivered British F-35B, with its first flight reported in June 2019. The same info was also found in the F-35 aircraft database hosted by the website F-16.net.

The photo was initially posted on Twitter by few users who later removed it claiming that they were not involved in taking the photo in the first place nor being the first to leak it online. The photo is however still being shared on Reddit, Facebook and other socials. The fact that many users later deleted the photo might be related to the consequences of the leak of the crash video, which led a male crew member of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s ship company to be arrested.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Wreckage Of The British F-35B Ditched In the Mediterranean Sea Has Been Recovered

No Comments
F-35B recovered
A Royal Air Force F-35B prepares to depart from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier during the CSG21 cruise. (Photo: Royal Navy). In the box: a screenshot of the video showing the crash that was leaked online.

The remains of the aircraft are now being transported to an allied port so it can then be airlifted back to the UK.

The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence announced on Dec. 7 the completion of the operations for the recovery of the Royal Air Force F-35B that crashed in the Mediterranean Sea. As we already extensively reported, the aircraft crashed while taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier on Nov. 17, 2021, as it couldn’t achieve enough speed to lift off reportedly because the engine ingested a “cheap plastic rain cover” or an air intake cover.

“Operations to recover the UK F-35 jet in the Mediterranean Sea have successfully concluded,” said the MoD in a statement. “We extend our thanks to our NATO allies Italy and the United States of America for their support during the recovery operation.” The U.S. Navy dispatched a specialized ship of the Emergency Ship Salvage Material (ESSM) System from its 6th Fleet HQ in Rota (Spain), while there are no details about the support provided by the Italian Navy.

It took two weeks to locate the wreck and another week to bring it up, according to defence sources mentioned by British newspapers. The recovery effort was complicated by the location where the F-35 ditched, as it happened in open water with depths that can exceed, in some areas, over 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet), and by rough sea conditions while the operations were taking place.

The recovered wreck, or what remains of it, is being transported by a chartered salvage ship to an unspecified allied port so it can be later airlifted back to the UK. According to The Sun, officials insisted all the wreckage had been recovered and “there is no danger or compromise to sensitive equipment on the aircraft”. Even if the chances of another country finding and exploiting any of the plane’s remains were small, the UK MoD didn’t want to take any chances.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 prepares to arm an active F-35B Lightning II aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Indo-Pacific on August 05, 2021. A historical first for HMS Queen Elizabeth, rearming and refueling active aircraft allows Marines to increase sortie generation, providing commanders increased options. This training underscores the unique advantages and opportunities which Carrier Strike Group 21 provides the US Marine Corps, US Navy, and Royal Navy and our commitment to shared security. (Photo: 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner/ U.S. Marine Corps)

National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove, as reported by the UK Defence Journal, told the Commons Defence Committee on December 6:

The pilot was recovered safely and is still undergoing medical checks. We are hopefully that he will be absolutely fine. It would be premature of me to comment on the reasons for the accident. The recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage are really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash. Clearly the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that. We haven’t got the plane up yet.

We are aware of Russian undersea capabilities, and you are quite right to identify them as being state of the art. The kinds of precautions and operations that we are undertaking at the moment are designed at least in part to ensure that the technology of the F-35B remains as confidential as you would like it to be. Those security aspects are very much at the top of our mind. My understanding is that the experts know where the aircraft is.”

The UK Defence Journal was also the first to report another interesting piece of information about this incident. As we reported, a video from the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s video camera system, showing the moment of the crash and the ejection of the pilot, was leaked online about two weeks after the mishap. The video was recorded with a mobile phone from the ship computer’s screens and disseminated among the crew onboard, before being shared outboard without permission.

According to the source mentioned by the website, a male crew member of HMS Queen Elizabeth’s ship company was arrested in connection with the video leak and has been immediately flown back to the UK. The source was reportedly able to confirm the info directly with the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s ship company.

The lost F-35B was identified as ZM152, with modex 018 and construction number BK18. The aircraft was reportedly one of the most recently delivered British F-35B, with its first flight reported in June 2019. The same info was also found in the F-35 aircraft database hosted by the website F-16.net.

The aircraft carrier, together with the Carrier Strike Group, is about to return home in these days, with the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs already disembarked at NAS Rota and the UK aircraft disembarking as the HMS Queen Elizabeth gets near the UK shores.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Alleged British F-35B Crash Video Leaked Online

No Comments
F-35B crash video
A screenshot of the F-35B crash video.

Provided it is genuine, the clip shows the British F-35B crashing in the sea during a failed take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

A video, supposedly showing the moment a British F-35B Lightning crashed off UK’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has just emerged and doing the rounds. Although we can’t be 100 percent sure, the clip (probably filmed with a smartphone as the actual video possibly recorded by the aircraft’s camera system is displayed on a computer’s screen), appears to be genuine and shows the incident, that occurred on Nov. 17, 2021, as it has been described so far.

You can clearly see an F-35B, configured for short take off (with open LIFT fan door and rear nozzle pivoted downward), rolling on the ski jump at very low speed (much lower than normal), then literally falling off the carrier for lack of enough thrust/lift. The pilot manages to launch as the aircraft reaches the final part of the ski jump.

Here’s the video:

The UK MOD has not denied the authenticity of the video (although it hasn’t confirmed it either).

As already reported, the one that crashed crashed in the Mediterranean Sea launching from the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is one of the eight British F-35Bs and ten U.S. Marine Corps F-35s embarked HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden operational cruise (dubbed CSG-21).

In an exclusive story published by The Sun on Nov. 23, the root cause of the crash was identified as a plastic, red rain cover, supposed to be removed before flight, but left on for the take off. While which “cheap plastic cover” was not removed before flight has not been explained, someone suggested it could be the one that is used to protect the dorsal air intake exposed when the LIFT fan door (the so called “toilet cover”) is opened.

Anyway, the fact that the flying activity was not halted after the incident, and that all the F-35Bs embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, including those of the U.S. Marine Corps, could take part in a cross deck exercise off Italy with the Italian Air Force and Navy’s F-35Bs was a clear sign that the root cause of the crash was immediately known and, importantly, not technical.

“If [the root cause being the rain cover left on is] confirmed, the crash of the F-35B would have been caused by a catastrophic chain of failures (by more than one person) in following the standard taxi and take off procedures, that will certainly include multiple visual checks of the actual removal of the air intake covers and safety pins (which are in red color and have the usual “Remove Before Flight” sign to attract the attention and prevent this kind of incidents),” this Author commented in a previous article on the incident.

Interestingly, the new video, provided is genuine, seems to show another interesting detail: as the aircraft is rolling, it seems like the pilot attempted to change the nozzle position and tilt it rearward, possibly in a final attempt to increase the thrust.

H/T Alex Snow for the heads-up.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Here Is What We Know About Yesterday’s British F-35B Crash

No Comments
F-35B crash
A British F-35B prepares to takeoff from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. (Photo: UK MoD)

The aircraft went down soon after takeoff this morning while the HMS Queen Elizabeth was sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Probably, recovery operation underway.

As you may know by now, a British F-35B crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 17, 2021, around 10AM GMT. The aircraft was one of the eight British F-35s and ten U.S. Marine Corps F-35s currently embarked aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. A very short statement by the UK Ministry of Defence Press Office, released this afternoon, stated that the pilot was rescued and returned to the ship following a successful ejection.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, as quoted by BBC’s Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale, provided some further details, saying that the F-35 ditched soon after taking off from the aircraft carrier and that operational and training flights onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth are continuing despite the incident. Some reports mentioned the possibility of a British pilot flying on a US jet, however it has been later confirmed that both the pilot and the F-35B were indeed British.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently on her way back to the UK from the maiden operational deployment with the recently established Carrier Strike Group. The 28-week deployment, which has been dubbed Carrier Strike Group 2021, brought the British aircraft carrier to the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. The CSG was planned to visit 40 nations during the 26,000-nautical-mile cruise.

Naval AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) data showed the HMS Queen Elizabeth CSG passing through the Suez Canal during yesterday’s afternoon, as seen on multiple ship tracking websites like MarineTraffic. The info was also confirmed by satellite imagery. This restricts the area where the mishap happened to the area between Egypt, Cyprus and Crete. If the ship was to make a port call in Cyprus like it did in July before moving to the Red Sea, this would restrict even more the area that needs to be considered.

In either case, the F-35 wreck on the Mediterranean seafloor is quite a sensitive matter, as the area where the mishap happened is relatively close to the Russian bases in Syria. This crash sparks concerns similar to the ones that followed the crash of a Japanese F-35 in 2019, when reports mentioned the risks of Russian and Chinese units trying to recover the missing fuselage in the attempt to exploit its remains to gather intelligence about the F-35’s low observable and sensor technology.

In that occasion, the F-35 crashed in an area about 130 km from Misawa AB where the water depth was deemed to be about 10,000 feet. This might also be similar to yesterday’s crash, as it happened in open water with depths that can exceed, in some areas, over 3,000 meters, which correspond to about 10,000 feet. The area is also highly trafficked, given the proximity to the Suez Canal, and combined with the extreme depth, this reduces the chances of another country finding and exploiting any of the plane’s remains.

Even if someone succeeded, it is unlikely to gather useful data, as we wrote in a previous article here at The Aviationist:

“It could present problems depending on what is recovered, when it is recovered and, above all, in which conditions, after impacting the surface of the water,” our own David Cenciotti told Fox News via email. “The F-35 is a system of systems and its Low Observability/stealthiness is a system itself. It is obtained with a particular shape of the aircraft, a certain engine and the use of peculiar materials and systems all those are managed and tightly integrated by million lines of software code: this means that it would be extremely difficult to reverse engineer the aircraft by recovering debris and broken pieces from the ocean bed. However, there are still lots of interesting parts that could be studied to get some interesting details: a particular onboard sensor or something that can’t be seen from the outside but could be gathered by putting your hands on chunks of the aircraft intakes or exhaust section, on the radar reflectors etc.”

Yesterday’s F-35 mishap should be the sixth where the aircraft has been lost since it entered service, and the first non-US B-model crash. As of today, the list counts two US and one Japanese F-35A and two US and one British F-35B. Before the crash, the UK had 24 F-35Bs delivered, of which three in the USA for testing, eight on the HMSQE and the remaining ones at RAF Marham.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

F-35B From British Aircraft Carrier Had A Close Encounter With A Russian Navy Warship In The Eastern Med Sea

No Comments
F-35B Russian Navy Eastern Med
The NOTAM that announced the Russian naval activity in the eastern Med. In the screenshots, the F-35B that flew close to the Russian group and two Tu-22M3 bombers (via Russian MOD).

A Russian exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, involving five warships as well as Tu- 142MK, Il-38, Tu-22M3 and MiG-31K aircraft, provided an opportunity for a close encounter with at least one F-35B operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Russian Aerospace Forces have kicked off an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Jun. 25, 2021. As the Russian MOD announced in a public statement, five ships of the Russian Navy (the Moskva missile cruiser; the Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov frigates, as well as two submarines, the Stary Oskol and Rostov-on-Don), together with Tu-142MK and Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and MiG-31K aircraft are involved in the exercise, whose goal is to train combat forces to ensure the security of two key Russian bases in Syria: Khmeimim airbase and Tartus.

At least two MiG-31K, an Il-38 ASW aircraft, and three Tu-22M3 bombers have arrived at Kheimim airfield in Syria, whose capabilities have been expanded with the extension of the runway and the completion of a second runway. These works, completed in May, have allowed Moscow to deploy its LRA (Long Range Aviation) bombers along with the missile-carrier aircraft to the airbase on the Mediterranean Sea and launch missions from there.

The Russian MOD told reporters on Jun. 28 that the MiG-31K armed with the air-launched Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic missile and Tu-22M3 bombers performed training flights escorted by Su-35 and Su-34 aircraft during the eastern Med drills.

“As part of the joint exercise, the crews of MiG-31K aircraft, capable of using the latest hypersonic missiles from the Kinzhal missile, and long-range Tu-22M3 bombers made regular training flights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, during which they completed the tasks of mastering the air space in maritime zone”, said the Defense Ministry. Some simulated missile launches were carried out by the MiG-31s using the Kinzhal missile during exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, according to Interfax.

For some context, here’s what we wrote when the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted the first successful test firing of the Kinzhal in 2018:

Kinzhal is claimed to be a strategic air-to-surface strike missile. The missile is claimed to have maneuverable flight characteristics not typically seen in hypersonic, solid fuel missiles. Observers of Russian missile programs have voiced skepticism about Russia’ performance claims however. According to Russians and reference sources the Kinzhal missile has a top speed of Mach 10 and maintains some ability to maneuver throughout its performance envelope including at hypersonic speed. If accurate, these capabilities could make the Kinzhal difficult to intercept by anti-missile systems. The missile is reported to have a range of 1,200 miles (approximately 2,000 kilometers). This, added to the reported 1,860-mile unrefueled range of the MiG-31BM long range, supersonic interceptor, gives the Kinzhal potentially intercontinental strike capability. The missile is also reported to be nuclear-capable and able to hit ground as well as naval targets.

Footage released by the Russian MOD provides also some additional details. First of all, the Tu-22M3 flew with Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missiles in the video. Indeed, the Backfire was primarily developed as an anti-ship missile carrier for the Soviet/Russian supersonic Kh-22/32 anti-ship missiles with range of up to 1,000 km (621 miles) as well as for smaller Kh-15 missiles with range of up to 300 km (160 miles).

Interestingly, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently reportedly operating in the Med Sea, south of Cyprus. It seems quite likely that the Russian aircraft have carried out already (or will, in the next days) perform some simulated attack on the British aircraft carrier and her strike group. For sure, the proximity between the has already provided an opportunity for a close encounter, as proved by a video, also released on Jun. 28, showing an F-35B from HMS QE flying near Russian Admiral Makarov frigate.

As already explained, on her maiden operational deployment (dubbed CSG-21), HMS Queen Elizabeth, with F-35B jets belonging to both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, is heading to the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, as planned, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier will supporting counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria. During her stay in the Med, it’s quite likely the Russians will keep an eye on the British aircraft carrier group and viceversa.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

F-35B Jets From HMS Queen Elizabeth Have Joined The Fight Against Daesh

No Comments
F-35B Shader
One of the F-35B embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. (Image credit: Crown Copyright)

UK Carrier Strike Group launching F-35B missions in support of Operation Shader from the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

On her maiden operational deployment, HMS Queen Elizabeth, with F-35B jets belonging to both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, is heading to the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war.

“This will be the first time UK fighter aircraft are embarked on an operational aircraft carrier deployment since 2010, and will be the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas,” says the UK MOD in a public statement, referring to the fact that during the 28-week deployment – dubbed CSG21 (Carrier Strike Group 2021), 10x VMFA-211 F-35Bs and 8x RAF 617 Sqn F-35Bs will operate from the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The naval line-up includes Type 45 destroyers, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond; Type 23 anti-submarine frigates, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond; and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s logistics ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring; along with an Astute-class nuclear submarine will accompany the British aircraft carrier along with U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans and a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Evertse.

F-35B Shader
RAF F-35B.

As planned, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the British aircraft carrier will be quite busy: it has already taken part in Exercise Joint Warrior/Strike Warrior off Scotland; then have joined drills with NATO partners, including Falcon Strike 2021 in the Mediterranean Sea; and is now about to support counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.

“F-35B Lightning fast jets will be the cutting edge of the Carrier Strike Group’s (CSG21) formidable power in the air.

These are next generation multi-role combat aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology, enabling them to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.

The renowned 617 Squadron RAF (‘The Dambusters’) will operate the jets to provide tangible and impactful support to counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.”

Although this will be the first time they launch from a British aircraft carrier, RAF F-35Bs have already grown experience in the air war against Daesh: 617 Sqn’s Lightning, deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, as part of Operation Lightning Dawn, flew their first operational sorties in support of Operation Shader on Sunday Jun. 16, 2019.

F-35B Pantelleria
British F-35B performing a short landing at Pantelleria AB during Falcon Strike 2021 exercise (Author).

Photos of the aircraft released by the UK MOD after the first F-35B returned from the armed patrol over Syria showed Paveway IV bombs being loaded and the AIM-120 AMRAAM carried inside the internal weapons bay. Moreover, the aircraft featured their RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers (also known as radar reflectors/Luneberg lenses).

“Lightning Dawn was our first Proof of Concept deployment away from the UK. We had lots of different objectives we wanted to achieve and we met all of them,” told us RAF 617 Squadron Wing Commander John Butcher at the end of the deployment. “We performed armed overwatch of our forces on the ground in support of Operation Shader. We flew just with F-35s. We worked alongside the Typhoon detachment, they gave a lot of briefs on the airspace, issues they had seen in operating in those airspaces. So we took their lessons, applied them to ourselves and then we went off”.

The type of missions the F-35B are going to fly in the next weeks is probably quite similar. It’s still not clear whether the USMC F-35Bs will support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) too, although it seems quite likely. VMFA-211 is a Marine squadron with significant combat experience with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35: on September 27, 2018, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B with VMFA-211, launched the first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The long-range strikes that struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, took off from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft flew that first raid with the gun pod and GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bays but bomb markings applied to some of the aircraft’s front landing gear door showed two different types of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): the GBU-12 500-lb LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and GBU-32 JDAMs.

According to our sources, the F-35Bs have already started flying sorties in support of Shader flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth on Jun. 20, 2021. Some interesting flying activity, likely related to the Lightning sorties, was tracked online on Jun. 21, when both a British E-3D AEW (Airborne Early Warning) aircraft and an RC-135W Airseeker operated off Syria.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Nine U.S. Marine Corps And Eight RAF F-35Bs Have Embarked On HMS Queen Elizabeth

No Comments
USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
One of the USMC F-35Bs launches from RAF Lakenheath to embark on HMS QE. (All images: Stewart Jack).

17 F-35Bs have already landed aboard British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of CSG21 deployment.

As already reported 10 USMC F-35Bs aircraft, belonging to the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, have arrived at RAF Lakenheath, UK between Apr. 26 and 28, 2021 to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth, for UK’s new aircraft carrier’s first operational cruise, named CSG21.

On her maiden operational deployment, HMS QE will travel to the Indo-Pacific region leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. However, before reaching the troubled waters of the South China Sea, the F-35Bs will be quite busy: they will take part in Exercise Joint Warrior/Strike Warrior off Scotland; then in drills with NATO partners in the northern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea; and will also support counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.

The deployment represents “the first time UK fighter aircraft are embarked on an operational aircraft carrier deployment since 2010, and will be the largest number of F-35Bs ever to sail the seas,” said the UK MOD in a news release. “The renowned 617 Squadron RAF (‘The Dambusters’) will operate the jets to provide tangible and impactful support to counter-Daesh operations in Iraq and Syria.”

Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey MP said: “The F-35B Lightning jets will pack a potent punch against Daesh and help prevent them from regaining a foothold in Iraq. This is a prime example of the UK Armed Forces stepping forward with our allies to confront persistent threats around the world. It is Global Britain in action.”

The British F-35Bs have already grown experience in the air war against Daesh: 617 Sqn’s Lightning flew their first operational sorties over Syria launching from RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, on Sunday Jun. 16, 2019, supporting of Operation Shader, the UK contribution to the Global Coalition’s counter Daesh mission in Iraq and Syria.

It’s still not clear whether the USMC F-35Bs will support OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) too, although it seems quite likely. VMFA-211 is a Marine squadron with significant combat experience with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35: on September 27, 2018, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B with VMFA-211, launched the first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The long-range strikes that struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, took off from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft flew that first raid with the gun pod and GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in the internal weapon bays but bomb markings applied to some of the aircraft’s front landing gear door showed two different types of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): the GBU-12 500-lb LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and GBU-32 JDAMs.

F-35Bs start embarking on HMS QE

In anticipation of the upcoming deployment, the U.S. Marine Corps and RAF F-35Bs have started, on Sunday May 2, 2021, to launch respectively from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Marham to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
VMFA-211 F-35B takes off for HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Marines F-35Bs took off in three sections, flying as “WAKE 11-12”, “WAKE 21-22” and “WAKE 31-32”. 617 Squadron also launched four aircraft from RAF Marham as “GHOST 11-12” (ZM150/016 and ZM154/020) and “GHOST 21-22” (ZM152 and ZM151).

The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack was at RAF Lakenheath and took the photographs of the USMC F-35Bs taking off from there on Sunday.

USMC F-35B embark HMS Queen Elizabeth
Close up on the cockpit of one of the USMC F-35Bs.

In the morning on Monday May 3, another four 617 Squadron jets went to the carrier: F-35B Lightning “Ghost 31-32” (ZM147/013 and ZM153/019) and “Ghost 41-42” (ZM155/021 and ZM148/014). Only three USMC Lightnings launched for the carrier as one went tech. Here are the serials: “WAKE41-42” (169608/CF07 and 169610/CF08) and “WAKE51” (169614/CF09). “WAKE52” (169416/CF03) aborted take-off at 10.20LT returned to parking.

The U.S. Navy has also shared some interesting images of the USMC F-35Bs aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

USMC F-35Bs Have Landed At RAF Lakenheath For Upcoming HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Indo-Pacific Deployment

No Comments
USMC F-35B RAF Lakenheath
The CAG bird of VMFA-211 lands at RAF Lakenheath on Apr. 26, 2021. (All images credit: Stewart Jack)

USMC F-35Bs have arrived at RAF Lakenheath to deploy aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Split into two sections, each including 5 jets, a total of 10 USMC F-35Bs aircraft have arrived at RAF Lakenheath, UK. The first five jets landed on Apr. 26, 2021; the remaining ones arrived at the base in Suffolk, England, on Apr. 28, 2021.

The USMC F-35Bs aircraft belong to the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers, based at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, and, in the next weeks, they will depart RAF Lakenheath to head to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, for UK’s new aircraft carrier’s first operational deployment. The photographs in this article were taken by The Aviationist‘s contributor Stewart Jack as the first section of USMC F-35Bs landed at RAF Lakenheath on Monday.

“Moving the Marines, aircraft and equipment to the United Kingdom required coordinated planning, complex logistical effort, diligent maintenance and seamless execution,” said Lt. Col. Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211 in a public release. “Now that we have arrived in the United Kingdom, we are reintegrating with our UK counterparts and focused on providing both the commodore of CSG-21 and US combatant commanders with ready, combat-capable, 5th-generation aircraft.”

One of the F-35Bs of the first section lands at RAF Lankenheath at sunset.

As part of the Covid-19 mitigation measures, VMFA-211 pilots will complete a 14-day restriction-of-movement prior to boarding HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Heading to the danger zone

On her maiden operational cruise, HMS QE will travel to the Indo Pacific region leading the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war.

The naval line-up is going to include: Type 45 destroyers, HMS Defender and HMS Diamond; Type 23 anti-submarine frigates, HMS Kent and HMS Richmond; and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s logistics ships Fort Victoria and Tidespring; along with an Astute-class nuclear submarine will accompany the British aircraft carrier along with U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans and a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Evertse. During the 28-week deployment, the 10x VMFA-211 F-35Bs will operate alongside with 8x F-35Bs belonging to the Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

The two units have already carried out joint training last year, when 10x F-35Bs of the “Wake Island Avengers” landed at RAF Marham on Sept. 3, 2020 to prepare the 2021 deployment. After local area training sorties with the Dambusters, the USMC F-35Bs took part in Exercise Point Blank with the F-15s from RAF Lakenheath and other NATO nations, before going to sea aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for carrier qualifications and Exercise Joint Warrior 20-2.

Along with the 18x STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft (10 USMC F-35Bs currently at Lakenheath and 8 RAF F-35Bs from RAF Marham), the air component of the Carrier Strike Group will include 4x AW159 Wildcat and 10x Merlin helicopters. It’s not clear whether the latter will carry the Crowsnest AEW (Airborne Early Warning) system, although it seems quite likely. Here’s what we wrote in the article covering the deployment of the VMFA-211 to RAF Marham in September last year, quoting Save the Royal Navy:

Crowsnest will not formally achieve Initial Operating Capability until September 2021 but 3 of the 9 Merlins are planned to be fitted with pre-IOC standard kits. At least the CGS will have some kind of Airborne Surveillance and Control capability, even if not properly certified and complete. In a significant change of plan, 849 Naval Air Squadron, which had been the ASaC squadron equipped with Sea Kings and was supposed to transition to Crowsnest, was disbanded in April 2020. The role will now be absorbed into 820 NAS. The squadron will have two streams of observers that specialise in either, anti-submarine warfare or ASaC. The RN has just 30 Merlin Mk2 helicopters, airframes are in short supply.

Merlin Mk4s will also be deployed and maybe ‘FOBed’ (Forward Operating Base) on RFA For Victoria or the tanker. For parts of the deployment, the RFAs and warships may detach and operate independently of the main CSG. USMC V-22 Ospreys will not be permanently embarked on the carrier but, together with CH-53E Stallions, may be used to provide Maritime Intra-Theatre Lift to the carrier group as it moves around the world, supported by the global US military logistic support footprint.

The CSG led by HMS Queen Elizabeth will set sail towards the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region, an area of rising tensions with China.

According to the Independent, “the UK Carrier Strike Group will carry out engagements with the navies of India and Japan, who are in dispute over land and sea borders respectively with Beijing, as well as the navies of South Korea and Singapore. All four countries being visited are considered the west’s allies in countering what is seen as China’s expansionist strategy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

The F-35Bs that arrived in the UK on Apr. 26 were: 169621/CF-01; 169607/CF-06; 169416/CF-03; 169608/CF-07; 169589/CF-04.

David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

RAF Set To Retire Older Typhoons, Chinooks And Other Types Following The Defence Review. Here’s Our Analysis.

No Comments
Defence Review
A file photo of a Tranche 1 Typhoon of the No. IX Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

The Defence Review, which will radically transform the Royal Air Force, Army and Navy by the next decade, has been described as one of the largest since the Cold War.

The UK’s government published the latest Integrated Defence Review on March 16, 2021, which has been described by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “the most comprehensive since the Cold War”. A few days later, on March 22, the Ministry of Defence published its own report, called “Defence in a Competitive Age”, which outlines the effects of the review on the British armed forces.

In this story we will give a closer low at the changes that will be made to the British military and the motives behind those decisions, focusing mainly on the aviation components of the three military services. You can read the entire report at this link.

According to the “Defence in a Competitive Age” report, the Integrated Defence Review assessed the major trends that will shape the national security and international environment to 2030, changing the nature and distribution of global power. Among the trends that have been identified, four are considered to be of particular importance:

  • Geopolitical and geo-economic shifts, such as the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific, China’s increasing international assertiveness and the influence of middle powers.
  • Systemic competition, including between states, and between democratic and authoritarian values and systems of government.
  • Rapid technological change, that will reshape our economies and societies, bringing enormous benefits but also becoming an arena of intensifying geopolitical competition.
  • Transnational challenges that require collective action, such as climate change, biosecurity risks, terrorism and serious and organised crime.

These trends will be affected also by the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hawk T1 trainers of the Red Arrows flying over New York during their recent US tour. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

Along with the four aforementioned trends, the review identified also four countries that pose significant challenges in the near future:

“Russia continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security. Modernisation of the Russian armed forces, the ability to integrate whole of state activity and a greater appetite for risk, makes Russia both a capable and unpredictable actor. The rising power of China is by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today. China poses a complex, systemic challenge. Iran and North Korea will continue to pose regional challenges and their nuclear programmes threaten global stability.

Obviously, the review mentions terrorism too, which will continue to pose a dynamic and evolving threat to the UK and its interests (possibly expanding even in the cyberspace), but it also mentions climate change and health emergencies as threat multipliers. Moreover, the newer domains of cyberspace and space will pose significant challenges and will need to be integrated with the traditional maritime, land and air military domains, as multidomain operations will become the norm.

Let’s now give a look at the consequences of the Defence Review on the armed forces, beginning from the Royal Air Force. The first reference is to the Combat Air capability, which will continue to grow over the next few years as all seven operational Typhoon Squadrons will be fully established and the Lightning II Force will be increased beyond the 48 F-35Bs already ordered. Works will continue also for the 6th generation aircraft, with a strategic investment of more than £2 billion over the next four years in the Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

To reach these objectives, however, the RAF needs to make some cuts, retiring equipment that has increasingly limited utility and rationalising older fleets to improve efficiency. Among the soon-to-be-retired aircraft we can find the older Tranche 1 Typhoons, which will leave the RAF by 2025, and the Hawk T1 trainers. This will allow new funds for the Typhoon and F-35 development, which will both see the integration of new weapons and capabilities.

The older Typhoons were previously scheduled to fly until 2030 while fulfilling air defence and aggressor roles. About 24 out of a total of 157 Typhoons should be affected by this decision, which were not scheduled to receive the Centurion upgrades and are assigned to the No. IX Squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth, for QRA and aggressor missions.

The Hawk T1 fleet is way larger than the number of the Tranche 1 Typhoons, as it will involve about 76 aircraft. After the T1 retirement, only 28 newer Hawk T2 trainers will remain in service. One notorious unit that uses the Hawk T1 is the Red Arrows Aerobatic Team, which might retain, for now, its jets. According to the Express, the Red Arrows will not be touched by the review, but the “clock is ticking” for them as the Ministry of Defence can no longer afford to finance them.

“Given the financial challenges which the RAF and, indeed, all services are facing, and anticipating no sudden upsurge in budget, funding the team is becoming challenging to the point that we must consider either finding a new, additional and substantial stream of income or letting go,” said a senior RAF source quoted by the newspaper.

While flight demonstration teams usually haven’t operational roles, they play an important marketing role, for both the service and the national aerospace industry. Display teams all around the world are every and now reported to be at risk of cuts; for now, the team bought itself some time, as “the Red Arrows has arranged a raft of sponsorship deals with some blue-chip brands, ranging from BAE, Barbour and Breitling to Land Rover and Rolls Royce, worth just under a million pounds in total.”

A BAe146 C3 of the Royal Air Force. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

Other soon-to-be-retired aircraft can be found in the support area. The Royal Air Force is retiring the BAe146, as planned, by 2022 and, almost by surprise, the C-130 Hercules by 2023, as we already reported as soon as it was announced. These capabilities should be fulfilled by the A400M Atlas, the C-17 Globemaster and the Voyager tanker, although it sounds almost ironic that the service is getting rid of the Super Hercules while other allied nations are just introducing it. Moreover, the A400 in particular, will have to take over the Special Operations support role the C-130s had. And it might be a difficult task, considered the available time.

A special mention goes to the BAe146. The aircraft, operated by the No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron for VIP and transport flights, was planned to be retired from service on  March 31, 2022 and replaced by a new type that was under consideration. The Review did not mention any replacement for the aircraft however, just a few days ago, photos emerged online of a new Airbus A321 NEO recently painted in the same livery of the Voyager “Vespina”, with the Union Jack on the tail and the writing “United Kingdom” on the fuselage.

The first aircraft to be retired, however, will be another iconic aircraft, the E-3D Sentry AEW Mk1, which will be retired this year ahead of its replacement with the E-7 Wedgetail in 2023. The RAF had five aircraft on order that should have been delivered from 2023 to 2026 and based at RAF Lossiemouth together with the nine P-8 Poseidons. The number of the Wedgetails, however, has been reduced, following the Defence Review, to just three aircraft.

No surprises were revealed for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, as it was confirmed that the nine MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems will be replaced by 16 Protector RG Mk1 RPASs by 2024. The new aircraft is the British variant of the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and is already flying in the United States ahead the RAF’s test and evaluation program.

As for the helicopters, the oldest CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters currently in the fleet will be retired and replaced by newer ones, enhancing capability, efficiency and interoperability, as mentioned in the report. Investments are scheduled in the mid-2020s for a new medium lift helicopter for the Army that will consolidate the fleet from four types to just one.

A Puma HC2 during a training flight. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

While not specified, the four types considered are the Gazelle AH1, AW159 Wildcat AH1, Bell 212 AH1, and the Puma HC2. The latter is not operated by the Army, but by the RAF, just like the Chinook fleet. The report did not disclose additional info about the replacement at this time, however, according to reports, Leonardo proposed its AW149 medium-lift helicopter as a potential replacement. A silhouette similar to the AW149 has also been used to indicate the new medium lift helicopter in the report, but this might be just a coincidence.

As for the Royal Navy, there are no particular news for their air component. The Merlins, both in the Mk2 ASW and Crowsnest variants and the Mk4 will remain in service as planned. Actually, the Crowsnest variant just entered service at the 820 Naval Air Squadron. The new helicopter will perform the Airborne Early Warning role within the carrier strike group, a role that once was of the Sea King AEW variants, the most recent being the ASaC Mk7.

The Crowsnest kit, which can transform any of the Merlin HM2 in the AEW variant, consists in a Thales Searchwater 2000 radar housed inside a large fairing on the port side of the helicopter and is an upgrade of the system used on the Sea King. Initially Lockheed Martin, which developed the Crowsnest system with Leonardo and Thales as subcontractors, proposed a radar based off the F-35’s Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 radar that was tested in 2011. Budget restraints, however, forced the choice of a cheaper solution.

Last, but not least, the Carrier Strike Group (CSG). The UK is pitching the CSG in the high readiness forces available to NATO, ready to respond to threats within 30 days. After the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) with France reached full operating capability in 2020, the two nations are also working to ensure co-operation and alignment of national deployments of the respective Carrier Strike Groups. Here’s a mention from the report about the CSG:

“International and interchangeable by design, the CSG offers unique strategic flexibility, from countering state threats and non-state threats, through to humanitarian and disaster relief. A UK CSG will be permanently available to NATO, an embodiment of our unwavering commitment to the defence and deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic area. The strategic utility of the CSG will be demonstrated by its inaugural deployment in 2021 to the Indo-Pacific region. Integrated with United States Navy and United States Marine Corps it will showcase the UK’s ability to project global influence and send a powerful message about our ability, and our willingness, to act globally.”

Obviously, many of the decisions mentioned in the “Defence in a Competitive Age” report are still subject to change but, in either case, the UK armed forces are set to undergo some radical changes before the end of this decade, making sure that the country is ready for the challenges that will be found in the 2030s.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.