The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced that RAF Marham-based Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II’s will undergo the type’s first overseas deployment to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus later this year.

The deployment will be conducted by 617 Squadron, famously nicknamed “the Dambusters,” which was the first Royal Air Force (RAF) squadron to officially accept the F-35B Lightning II for frontline operations. The UK’s Lightning Force is jointly-manned by both RAF and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (RN FAA) personnel. In a press release, the MoD says that this deployment will help “personnel from both services to gain vital experience in maintaining and flying the aircraft in an unfamiliar environment.”

This deployment marks an important milestone in this game-changing aircraft’s journey to becoming fully operational.”

Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP

Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP said: “These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world. This deployment marks an important milestone in this game-changing aircraft’s journey to becoming fully operational.” The UK’s F-35B Lightning II fleet received its initial operational capability on 10 January 2019.

The deployment is set to help train and test the logistics and maintenance of equipment and crew when it comes to deploying the aircraft to new locations. The F-35B is the first aircraft to employ stealth characteristics to enter the UK’s military inventory. It is also the first stealth aircraft with the ability to conduct short take-off and vertical landings (STOVL). The aircraft will form the backbone of the UK’s carrier-strike capability and will embark on the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, later this year.

Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II [Reg: ZM145] of the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron (nicknamed “the Dambusters”) strutting its stuff at RIAT 2018. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “It is great to see 617 Squadron, the modern day Dambusters, flying the most advanced and dynamic fighter jet in the UK’s history and about to start their first overseas deployment. I have no doubt that this short deployment will offer many tests, but likewise I am confident that our highly trained and skilled personnel will rise to the challenge and confirm our ability to deliver truly formidable capability.”

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has grown to be the world’s largest defence programme, clocking in at over $1.3-trillion. The aircraft is set to see operational service with Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. Turkey has also placed an order for the type but due to recent political tension between the Turkish and United States governments, the deal has been put on hold. The UK currently has 17 F-35Bs from a total of 138 planned.

As of yet no exact date on the deployment has been announced. More follows… 

By Khalem Chapman [09/04/2019]