The UK aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is set to begin flight testing seven F-35B fighter jets this month after leaving her homeport of Portsmouth last week.
The Royal Navy’s biggest warship will be working with up to seven British F-35Bs, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the jet, during her Westlant 19 deployment, off the east coast of North America.
The deployment marks another significant milestone for the aircraft carrier, which will have Royal Navy and RAF jets embarked during five weeks of testing, as well as hosting F-35s from the US Marine Corps.
Ahead of full operations in 2021, the carrier, F-35s and supporting units will be tested under realistic warfighting scenarios, visiting Canada and the USA during the three-month mission.
The ship’s Commanding Officer, Captain Steve Moorhouse said, “To command any warship is a privilege but to be able to command HMS Queen Elizabeth during this pivotal phase of her capability development is a real honour.”
“Westlant 19 is a hugely exciting deployment and as we increase the scale and complexity of our training and testing, so the potency of this extraordinary ship continues to grow.
“In addition to my core ship’s company, the fixed and rotary wing air assets, enhanced medical capability, Royal Marines and other force elements from across Defence will enhance HMS Queen Elizabeth and the UK’s Carrier Strike capability on this deployment.”
Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon and Type 23 frigate HMS Northumberland will accompany Queen Elizabeth with tanker RFA Tideforce providing support to the Carrier Strike Group.
This group of UK ships will also be joined by units from the United States Navy, US Air Force and US Marine Corps.
Commander of UK Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Mike Utley said, “The success of last year’s deployment during which we embarked and operated the F-35B for the very first time put us ahead of the curve in terms of developmental testing between the jets and ship.
“We have a significant switch in focus this year, towards operationalising this national defence capability – turning this ship, the jets for which it has been built and all supporting units into a cohesive, agile, efficient force.