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DSEI: U.S. Marine F-35Bs Will Operate From British Queen Elizabeth Carriers

An artist's rendering of the future HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Royal Navy Image

An artist’s rendering of the future HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Royal Navy Image

LONDON — The U.S. Marine Corps will deploy its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II strike fighters on combat sorties from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, a senior U.K. Royal Navy officer has confirmed.

Rear Adm. Keith Blount, who is responsible for delivering the two 65,000 ton ships, said that using Marine aircraft and pilots to bolster the U.K.’s nascent carrier strike capability would be a natural extension of coalition doctrine.

“We are forever operating with allies and within coalitions. It’s the way wars are fought”, the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability and Carriers) and Rear Adm. Fleet Air Arm told an audience at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Wednesday.

“In order to get the best out of [the U.K. carrier program] we have to be able to situate it in a coalition context. That could mean that we operate with an American ship as one of the protecting escorts”, Blount said.

“But … given the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps are buying and will operate the same type of aircraft as we are buying and operating, it would make no sense whatsoever if we were to close down the opportunity and potential of the U.S. Marine Corps working from this flight deck.
“So yes, I expect the U.S. Marine Corps to operate and work from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier. We are going to get the most bang for the buck we can for the U.K. taxpayer, and that’s one of the ways in which we’ll achieve it.”

While Blount painted the co-operative arrangement in positive terms, it will disappoint critics who believe the U.K. government should provide the R.N. and Royal Air Force (RAF) with sufficient resources, in both aircraft and manpower, to regenerate the country’s carrier air wings independently.

Each of the 284 m-long carriers, fitted with a ‘ski jump’ bow ramp instead of the catapults and arrester wires once planned, will accommodate up to 40 aircraft: short takeoff/vertical landing F-35B strike fighters, helicopters, or a blend of fixed-wing and rotary tailored to the mission in hand.

An F-35B Lighting II lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on May 18, 2015. US Navy Photo

An F-35B Lighting II lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on May 18, 2015. US Navy Photo

Britain took delivery of its first Lightning II aircraft in 2012 and currently has three; the fourth is due to roll off Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production line in January 2016.

“We have people in America now flying these jets”, said Blount, who disclosed that the RN had recently recruited its first ab initio F-35B pilots.
“The first frontline jet they will ever fly in will be the F-35 … that’s how close we are getting to this.
“When I was at Edwards Air Force Base quite recently I met 140 sailors and an equal number of RAF personnel that are in the testing and evaluation squadron to bring this aircraft online. This is genuinely exciting stuff, and this aircraft is a world beater for what it is designed to do – an exceptional platform.”

Britain’s F-35Bs are scheduled to arrive at Marham Air Base in eastern England in mid-2018, achieving initial operating capability by the end of that year. A deployable U.K. carrier strike capability should be ready by late 2020.

Blount said he was also “very excited” about the opportunities presented through Joint Helicopter Command to operate Apache, Chinook, Merlin and other helicopters from the Queen Elizabeth class.
“Getting rid of the cats and traps actually makes this a far simpler proposition, and one of the reasons why this capability is so versatile and useful to us,” he added.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    The question still remains, as to why the USMC still maintains a Fixed-wing Air Force in this day & age, when defense dollars are getting as scarce as hen’s teeth, there are very few ships for them to deploy on, & the USAF is supposedly this nation’s air force. Now, the USMC will deploy on a foreign war ship? Traitorous…

    • Fred Gould

      No. The USN has been having personnel serve with other navies on a regular basis. If I remember correctly, it was a one or two year tour and provides invaluable experience for all.

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  • John B. Morgen

    FedUpWithWelfareStates: Here’s a news flash! Off and on our Navy/Marine pilots have been operating off from British aircraft carriers for decades, even during World War II. For example, in 1943 both the USS Saratoga (CV-3) and the HMS Victorious (R-38) swapped aircraft at different times, and attacked Japanese targets in the Solomons. The Britain is our closes key ally, and there’s nothing about the USMC pilots being “(T)raitorous.” You’re really off your keel!

    • Marcd30319

      Wrong again, John.

      The Saratoga and the Victorious operated together for two months in the South Pacific from May to July 1942 in order to allow Enterprise to undergo an much needed overhaul. The Sara later operated in the Indian Ocean with the Victorious in 1943. There was crossing training of British naval aviators by US personnel on American aircraft that the Royal Navy bought from us, but there were no cross-decking of air squadrons between US and UK carriers. See The Fast Carriers by Clark G. Reynolds, p. 35, Chapter 9.

      We do cross-deck training with the Argentine and French navies, and their aircraft even operate off our carrier but only temporarily.

      This new proposal suggests that USMC F-35B aircraft will be permanently based on these UK carriers. Big difference, and not in a good or workable way.

      • John B. Morgen

        No Marcd30319, you’re wrong!

        My source comes from Norman Polmar, Aircraft Carriers, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1969. pp 269-270. Norman Polmar is one of leading naval historians and naval analyst. He continues to write articles for the USNI Proceedings and other military publications.
        I don’t recall that I ever been wrong….

        • Marcd30319

          The late Dr. Clark G. Reynolds was the leading naval aviation historian and The Fast Carriers is considered the authoritative history of carrier aviation in the Pacific.

          Regarding Polmar, that 1969 book was updated into a two-volume version in 2006, so it is so conveniently difficult to verify your sourcing.

          Volume 1 of the new 2016 Polmar book does state RAF No. 165 Squadron did flight deck training on the British carrier Argus between 23 December 1942 to 8 January 1943. Technical limitations caused this program to be cancelled later in 1943. (see pp. 349-350).

          • John B. Morgen

            I have copied this historical information that I got it from the DANFS, Naval History & Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.: “Saratoga sailed from Pearl Harbor on 10 November and proceeded, via Fiji, to Noumea which she reached on 5 December. She operated in the vicinity of Noumea for the next twelve months, providing air cover for minor operations and protecting American forces in the Eastern Solomons. Between 17 May and 31 July 1943, she was reinforced by the British carrier, Victorious; and, on 20 October, she was joined by Princeton (CVL-23). As troops stormed ashore on Bougainville on 1 November, Saratoga’s aircraft neutralized nearby Japanese airfields on Buka. Then, on 5 November, in response to reports of Japanese cruisers concentrating at Rabaul to counterattack the Allied landing forces, Saratoga conducted perhaps her most brilliant strike of the war. Her aircraft penetrated the heavily defended port and disabled most of the Japanese cruisers, ending the surface threat to Bougainville.Saratoga, herself, escaped unscathed and returned to raid Rabaul again on 11 November.”

            So I don’t know where Dr. Clark G. Reynolds gotten his information from? However, you can find the official histories of almost every American warship from the DANFS.

            As for Norman Polmar’s second edition of Aircraft Carriers, I have never seen it. Right now, I have his first edition, and I bought it in 1969.

          • Marcd30319

            After digging into Polmar’s 2016 extensive update, cross-decking between Victorious and Saratoga is alleged but the problem with Polmar is that he does not annotate so there is no way to verify his sourcing (pp. 308-309).

            In David Hobbs’ A Century of Carrier Aviation, Chapter 19 also mentions this but it also does not annotate its sourcing (pp. 286, 299). Interestingly, that chapter title is Cross Deck Operations. More on that below.

            The Belote brothers’ Titan of the Seas does provide coverage for the 1943 VictoriousSaratoga combined operations but it makes no mention of cross-decking. What the Belotes do note is that the Victorious was using American aircraft (pp. 166-168). As Dr. Reynolds noted, these aircraft were procured under Lend-Lease and British naval aviators were trained at NAS Quenset Point, Rhode Island (The Fast Carriers, p. 308).

            In essence, what is being discussed is called cross-decking, or in more appropriate military parlance, it is called interoperability.

            In Chapter 19 of Hobbs’ book noted above, aircraft did operate between US and British carriers until the Royal Navy decommissioned its last big-deck carrier Ark Royal in 1978.

            Why? Because while Harriers could land on and lift off our supercarriers, our F-14, F-18 or any other CTOL aircraft can not operate off Invincible-class through-deck cruisers because they had no catapults or arresting gear.

            In any case, your 1943 VictoriousSaratoga example is incorrect and invalid, and your premise is mistaken and irrelevant because there is NO interoperability in the proposal set forth in this article.

            The reason is very obvious — There are no British F-35B to cross deck with because the Royal Navy evidently is going to be using our US Marine F-35B for their carrier air groups.

            This is not interoperability; this is the British outsourcing their naval aviation from us. If you listen carefully, you can hear Horatio Nelson, Jacky Fisher, and Winston Churchill spinning in their graves!

            Please consider the following two scenarios and their inherent implications and dangers.

            Suppose there is a combined Anglo-American carrier task force engaged in an active combat air campaign. Who are in danger of being shot down over enemy territory? Only US naval and marine aviators.

            Now suppose there is an overseas situation relevant only to British interest (e.g., the Falkland Islands). Does that mean US marine aviators will be flying combat missions in an overseas conflict that does not affect the US nor has been authorized the US Congress?

            Clearly, this entire proposal is wrong and likely illegal, and it should be stopped.

            What the British needs to do is go ahead and buy the 80 plus F-35B aircraft they were committed to buy for the Royal Navy. This will help keep costs down because there will be a larger production run for the F-35B. Also, this will allow the US Marines to concentrate its F-35B aircraft for its operations.

            And when done, then you can do legitimate cross-decking interoperability.

          • Mark Sheehan

            the british also have f 18s and US Marines fly f 18s to

          • Marcd30319

            Yes, the US Marine have F-18s and they are completely capable of operating from our carriers because:

            (1) They were produced with tail-hooks and strengtened undercarriages so they can stand the impact of being launched by catapult off the flight deck and land back aboard using the arresting gear.

            (2) US Marine aviators are fully trained to be carrier qualified and have been going back to WW2.

            My point remains that following the decommissioning their last big-deck CTOL carrier, the old HMS Ark Royal, our carrier aircraft cannot cross-deck with British Invincible-class through-deck cruisers because these ship were designed to operate only helicopters and Harrier VTOL jump jets. Therefore, has been no realistic cross-decking or true interoperability between between the naval air arms of the US and Royal navies.

            Finally, neither the RAF or the FAA have ever operated the F-18. Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland do.

          • David Flandry

            The Brits do not have the F/A 18. Some RN pilots operate USN aircraft of USN carriers as part of the “seedcorn” program to keep RN aviation skills currernt.

          • and RAF since the RAF will dominate fixed wing flying in the UK

          • Secundius

            @ Mark Sheehan.

            In August 2010, the British newspaper The Sunday Times, reported that the RAF/RN were interested in acquiring “Super Hornet’s” for their “QE/PW” Carrier Program. The “SH” were cancelled in favor of the F/AV-35B’s (BK.1’s)…

          • John B. Morgen

            The British do not have F/A-18s, but maybe you were thinking about the Canadians and Australians, which both of them do have F/A-18s.

          • John B. Morgen

            My last response to you is still pending, for some but very odd reason. I thought I should let you know.

          • Marcd30319

            I responded to your last post 6 days ago.

          • John B. Morgen

            Yeah! It’s very madden for the bloody hold-up, and they do not state why my response is pending. My response to you was no different than the last time, but I did added some additional information or evidence to backup my claims. That’s all!

          • Secundius

            @ Marced30319.

            HMS. Argus, was converted into a “Barracks Ship” in December 1944. And Later “Scrapped in 1946…

          • Marcd30319

            Yes, Secundius, and if this had been relevant to the discussion, this would have been mentioned.

  • johnbull

    Marines did training missions in Harrier jump jets in the Royal Navy’s older Illustrious/Ark Royal type carriers. It’s nothing new. During WWII American ships operated at times as part of RN task forces, and vice versa. We are collaborating with them on designing the next generation of SSBNs. They are the closest and most dependable ally we’ve got, why not work togehter?

    • John B. Morgen

      We are working with Mum….

  • Mike Radecki

    This is one way around the carrier shortage in the US

    • Well the UK’s QEC is not the same as a Nimtiz or Ford Class carrier.

  • Marcd30319

    So save from some helicopters, the Fleet Air Arm is truly dead and buried.

    And what will the U.S. Marine Corps use for its amphibious ready groups? Cardboard cut-outs? Or inflatable ones?

    • It saves deck space on America class LHAs.

      • Marcd30319

        What a brilliant idea … not!

        • Ok Dont bother then use your own ships or go take over the WH so you can implement your own policies.

          • Marcd30319

            Another brilliant idea!

            Here is the scoop, chief.

            One, we buy our own F-35B for our US Marines for our expeditionary missions.

            Two, the Royal Navy buys its own F-35B for its SVTOL carrier operations.

            Three, when appropriate, our F-35B aircraft and their FAA F-35B aircraft can do cross-deck training to improve interoperability for any future combined operation through NATO, etc.

            What we do not need is the Brits using our Marine aviators as a substitute for them not investing in the F-35B program or recapitalizing their own Fleet Air Arm.

            Western Europe must learn that the US is more than happy to be a partner and ally for their collective security and defense needs but they must carry their own weight, too.

          • Secundius

            @ Marcd30319.

            Just to give you the Heads-Up, but it Looks like the South Koreans are Dropping Out of the “JSF Program”. Lockheed-Martin, was suppose to transfer Four Key Technologies to the South Koreans, and NOW they Refuse to Deliver…

          • muttley

            Marc, Bit hard! The British have committed $7 Billion to purchasing 14 aircraft and support and they will pay much more for the rest. You say “What we do not need is the Brits using our Marine aviators as a substitute for them not investing in the F-35B program or recapitalizing their own Fleet Air Arm.”
            This is a win win situation! the British get some very good aviation support and in exchange the USMC get a very expensive aircraft carrier to operate from.

          • Marcd30319

            Gee, that’s what I said and it took you 13 days to analyze? Thanks for the timely confirmation.

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  • publius_maximus_III

    I guess it’s OK, as long as our guys remember to land on the left side instead of the right.

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  • Dennis Moore

    Once again America comes to the rescue because David Cameron is too cheap to buy sufficient aircraft for the Royal Navy.

    • Secundius

      @ Dennis Moore.

      It’s NOT that the British are “Cheap”, they simply can’t Afford It. The were Promised 150 Aircraft’s at a “Fixed” Cost by Lockheed-Martin, and NOW they can only Afford 48. And Now South Korea, is Seriously thinking about Dropping-Out of the JSF Program. Making the Program, COST EVEN MORE. Personally, I think Lockheed-Martin, should EAT Some of the COST’s or “HANG” a Few CEO’s and Board of Directors, getting 7-Figure BONUSES. By selling us (the USA) 8-Figure “PAPERWEIGHT’s”…

  • This is why we need more LHD/LHA’s for the USMC.

    • Secundius

      @ Nicky.

      Not just the USMC., but the Royal Marines as well. It’s not that they can’t fight, its just the Means of Delivering Them TOO the Fight. Give the Ship’s a New Designation “U-SUK’s”, US/UK…

  • phantomforester

    I was not there, and cannot qualify as a witness nor as an expert, but I remember reading about a story when a British Fairey Barracuda landed on an American aircraft carrier during World War II, and an American sailor exclaimed, “Jesus Christ! The Limeys’ll be building airplanes next.” (I think the story was in the book Wings of the Morning, but I am relying solely on my memory here.)

    If true, it means there was at least one landing of a British-made aircraft on an American carrier.

    • John B. Morgen

      That account was mentioned in Norman Polmar’s book, Aircraft Carriers (1969).

    • Secundius

      @ phantomforester.

      It’s NOT “Wings of the Morning” that was published in 1937…

      • phantomforester

        It’s not that “Wings of the Morning.” The book I was referring to is on the Fleet Air Arm in World War II by a Brtiish author. I would have to dig it up in a library to make sure it’s the same book in order to give you the exact reference. For now, I will content myself with denying that it was pubished in 1937. My memory may be selective, but not creative. I do remember the author had distinct non-establishment opinions–on the Bismarck chase and on Kamikazes, for example. I used his mentioning of the Barracuda’s landing on an American carrier as evidence that such an event did occur. He would hardly have invented such an incident to cast aspersions on a British aircraft, so I would say that the account has credibility, as an admission against interests.

  • douginjax

    I don’t see much value in such an expensive CV that is only good for little wars involving Borneo or Sierra Leone. Why invest in F-35s to fill the decks of such a carrier, when the Hawker Sea Fury could take out the enemy and not require catapults? Yes, I’m being facetious, but marginal half-steps in naval platforms has a bad track record.

    The Brits might want to consider having two robust carrier air wings, that they deploy on U.S. carriers if required, but normally operate as land-based units (like USMC fixed wing). Operational training could be had by adding single squadrons to U.S. deployments. U.S. CVNs used to have air wings of 80+ aircraft not so long ago, but are now down to ~60 aircraft. Adding another squadron would simply put the deck load back up to what it was designed for, so the capacity is there.

    If the Brits are going to bet on never facing a real adversary, then the cost of the QEs is way too high. A new super tanker is under $200 million and reconfiguring the design to a VTOL platform with below deck hangers shouldn’t more than double the cost. A $500 million converted tanker would be 30% the cost of a QE class CV, and offer more flight deck and hangar space.

    • John B. Morgen

      The return of the Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MACs).

    • Secundius

      @ douginjax.

      The Hawker Sea Fury, didn’t need a Catapult Launch, they were equipped with 5-bladed propellers which produced enough Thrust to Clear the Flight Deck. Land Based Hawker Fury’s, had 4-bladed propellers. The first use of a Hydraulic Catapult on an Aircraft Carrier was in 1943 by the British. The First Steam Catapult was introduced in 1950, also by the British…

      • douginjax

        And how many do they have now?

        • Secundius

          @ douginjax.

          Well, How Many Operational Gerald Ford’s with Working EMALS. Do WE (the USA) HAVE NOW. Last count ZERO!!!

    • no military project is ever on time on budget.

  • The USMC will gain the advantage through the ASAC Merlin HM2 helicopters. Something a MEU/ASG doesnt have

  • Secundius

    According to AW&ST, the Answer is YES. For the Foreseeable Future, the USMC will be Supplementing the RAF/RN FAA in Aircraft Carrier Operations on the QE and PW Medium Aircraft Carrier’s. Discussion range from 1/3 to 1/2 Carrier Air Wing Complement of (36) F/AV-35B’s (BK.1’s). But at the present time NO, V-22 Osprey’s…

  • Allen

    The Marines will love flying off of that great lady when she enters service. I am so impressed with the QE Class. It is only fitting as the British have played such a pivotal role in the development of aircraft carriers from the beginning of naval aviation.

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