U.K. Aircraft Carrier, Italian Navy Carrier Cross-Deck F-35Bs in Mediterranean

November 24, 2021 1:23 PM
A U.S Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Italian Air Force and Italian Navy F-35Bs on the deck of carrier Queen Elizabeth (R08). U.K. Royal Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The United Kingdom Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and Italian carrier ITS Cavour (CVH550) on Monday performed a cross-decking and integration exercise of their embarked F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters south east of Sicily in the Mediterranean, making Italy the second nation after the United States to operate the aircraft off the U.K. warship.

The exercise had three phases. The first phase saw two U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs from the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 from Queen Elizabeth landing on the Cavour. This was followed by an Italian Navy F-35B and an Italian Air Force F-35B from Cavour landing on Queen Elizabeth. The third phase saw F-35Bs taking off from the two carriers and flying interoperability flights, along with a joint flight formation of four F-35Bs, one each from the U.S. Marines, the U.K. Royal Navy, Italian Navy and Italian Air Force. The U.K Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron “The Dambusters” embarked on Queen Elizabeth is a composite squadron of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel, though organizationally it is an RAF squadron.

“The fact that US, Italian and UK F-35Bs are able to fly to and from one another’s decks offers tactical agility and strategic advantage to NATO,” Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21), said in a Royal Air Force news release. “Today’s activity is a telling demonstration of the ability of the U.K.’s flagship to work seamlessly with other nations; Italy is the third nation to land an F-35B on to the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the seventh military operating F-35 aircraft that the U.K’s Carrier Strike Group has exercised with on Carrier Strike Group 2021.”

Watching the exercise from Cavour were Italian Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, along with Italian Navy Chief Adm. Enrico Credendino and Italian Air Force Chief Gen. Luca Goretti. Cavour earlier this year was in the U.S., arriving at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 13 and working with a test team from the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) as part of its effort to become certified to operate the F-35B. The ship arrived back home in Italy on April 30.

ITS Carvour (CVH550) and Queen Elizabeth (R08) sailing together for the F-35 interoperability exercise in the Mediterranean. Italian Navy Photo

On Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth hosted a delegation of 30 NATO Ambassadors to see F-35 operations from the ship. The delegation arrived on V-22 Ospreys and were were joined by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) Gen. Tim Radford and representatives from Italy, the Netherlands, the U.K and the U.S., with U.K. Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin welcoming the NATO delegation.

CSG 21 is now on the final leg of its seven-month deployment, which has seen the group travel over 40,000 nautical miles to the Indo-Pacific and back. Ships and aircraft from the group have operated and exercised with over 40 countries during the deployment. The group is currently dispersed and the original composition has changed. American destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) detached from the group in late October and arrived home today at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. U.K. replenishment ship RFA Tidespring (A136) was replaced by RFA Tidesurge (A138) on Saturday.

Queen Elizabeth is currently with destroyer HMS Diamond (D34), Tidesurge, replenishment ship RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and, as was when CSG 21 operated in the Mediterranean in June, Italian destroyer ITS Andrea Doria (D553).

Frigate HMS Richmond (F239), which had previously been with Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean, has detached and arrived in Malta today for a port visit, while Dutch frigate HMNLS Evertsen (F805) has just completed a three-day port visit in Catania, Sicily, and is on its way to rejoin the group. Also heading to rejoin the group is destroyer HMS Defender (D36), which transited the Suez Canal today, having previously conducted exercises and a port visit with Jordan. Frigate HMS Kent (F78) is also likely heading out of the Middle East to join the group after supporting Combined Maritime Forces Bahrain operations.

VFMA 211 also completed its embarkation on Queen Elizabeth, with the squadron departing today for Naval Station Rota, Spain, for the first leg of the voyage home.

The U.K. Royal Air Force also announced today that the first F-35B from 617 landed at RAF Marham in the U.K.

“Engineers will now determine the maintenance requirement ahead of the rest of the Squadron returning next month,” the RAF wrote in a social media post.

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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