U.S., U.K. F-35s Drill in the Western Pacific

September 2, 2021 1:10 PM - Updated: September 3, 2021 5:46 AM
A Marine F-35B Lighting II aboard the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) this week. Royal Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR – Aircraft from carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) flew interoperability exercises over the Philippine Sea on Aug. 26 with U.S. Marine Corps and Royal Air Force F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from the U.K. Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21), the Navy announced this week.

Four Navy F-35C from Strike Fight Squadron (VFA) 147; five F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA) 2 and 192; two EA-18G Growlers, from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136; and one E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, from the “Black Eagles” of Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 113 participated in the drills, in addition to aircraft from CSG 21. The aircraft from the U.K. carrier included two U.S. F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and two F-35Bs from U.K. Royal Air Force 617 Squadron “The Dambusters.”

The exercise was one of the largest deployed collections of fifth-generation fighters, as both the U.S. and U.K. have begun to operate their F-35s in the Western Pacific. In addition to the aircraft on Vinson, Marine F-35Bs embarked on the America Amphibious Ready Group are operating in the region.

“In a very short amount of time, we were able to seamlessly combine the collective 5th generation capabilities of joint strike fighter aircraft from two services and a partner nation together with the rest of the advanced capabilities of our entire air wing,” Capt. Tommy Locke, the commander of CVW-2, said in a news release. “Our strike group and air wing arrived in the Indo-Pacific ready to demonstrate the value of having agile 5th generation maritime power in the region – and make no doubt, we are ready to win.”

USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), navigates Tokyo Bay on the way to Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka for a scheduled port visit on Aug. 28, 2021. US Navy Photo

Vinson arrived at Fleet Activities Yokosuka on Aug. 28 for a scheduled port visit. The strike group deployed on Aug. 2 for the Western Pacific and consists of Vinson, cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and destroyers USS Dewey (DDG-105), USS O’Kane (DDG-77), USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112), USS Chafee (DDG-90) and USS Stockdale (DDG-106).

The Vinson Carrier Strike Group is expected to conduct additional exercises with the U.K. CSG 21, which is now heading to Japan after completing a three-day exercise with the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) in the East Sea from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.

The U.K. CSG 21 consists of carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and embarked aircraft, which include The “Wake Island Avengers” of U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211. The U.S. Marine squadron is embarked and integrated with the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron “The Dambusters.” Destroyer HMS Defender (D36), frigates HMS Kent (F78) and HMS Richmond (F239), Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and RFA Tidespring (A136), an Astute-class submarine, Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805), and American destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) make up the strike group. Destroyer HMS Diamond (D34) was forced to drop out of the group in July and dock in Italy due to problems with its engine. The ship sailed out of Taranto on Sept. 1 after completing repairs, but it is uncertain as to whether it will sail to join the group or head home to the U.K. Kent left Sasebo on Aug. 31 after completing a maintenance period, while Richmond is currently in Guam.

The exercise between CSG 21 and the ROKN focused on basic operations like search and rescue and replenishment at-sea exercises. Queen Elizabeth, Defender, Evertsen, The Sullivans, and replenishment ship Tidespring participated in the drills. The ROKN ships involved were LPH ROKS Dokdo (LPH6111) and destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (DDG-993).

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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