UK F-35B Lightning aircraft departed for Cyprus this morning to take part in their first overseas exercise.
Several jets from 617 Squadron flew from their base at RAF Marham in Norfolk to spend six weeks at RAF Akrotiri as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.
This training exercise will allow personnel from both services to gain vital experience in maintaining and flying the aircraft in an unfamiliar environment. It will also examine all aspects of moving this aircraft to a new location, including logistics, maintenance, and sustainment of all the equipment and crew that comes with the F-35 whilst also enhancing its preparedness for its first operational carrier trials later this year.
This exercise will be the first time a visit has been undertaken by any variant or nationality of F-35 aircraft to Cyprus.
Since Initial Operating Capability was declared at the end of 2018, DE&S personnel at RAF Marham and Abbey Wood have been working with 617 Squadron, Lightning Force and industry partners to prepare Lightning for this next milestone.
Mark Thornton, Lightning Delivery Team Leader, DE&S, said: “Exercise Lightning Dawn is the culmination of months of hard work by the delivery team to prepare people, equipment and logistics arrangements for operations. We have delivered a state-of-the-art stealth fighter jet to the RAF and RN, which they will now operate in a deployed environment for the very first time. Our team will continue to support the overseas deployment from RAF Marham and Abbey Wood.”
RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Townsend, added: “The exercise in Akrotiri will prove our ability to operate F-35 away from RAF Marham and allow us to learn the lessons of operating the air system whilst on deployment.”
The F-35B Lightning is the first jet to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short take-offs and vertical landings. With the ability to operate from land and sea, the F-35B forms a vital part of delivering a ‘carrier strike’ capability to the UK when combined with Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.
The UK currently owns 17 F-35B aircraft with the reformed 617 Squadron arriving back in the UK last year. More jets are due in Britain over the coming years, and there is an overall plan to procure 138 aircraft over the life of the programme.
The F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme at over $1.3 trillion, with UK industry providing 15% by value of every one of over 3,000 jets set for the global order book. That makes the economic impact greater than if we were building 100% of all 138 aircraft which we intend to buy. The programme has already generated $12.9 billion worth of orders and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.