The UK’s Royal Air Force has flown the first operational missions with its new F-35B Lightning II.
The first mission was flown over Syria on June 16 by 617Sqn ‘Dambusters’ from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus where they have been deployed since late May. The first sorties were operated in company with RAF Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, and the RAF has acknowledged the F-35Bs have flown at least 12 sorties since then.
UK MoD images on Twitter show the F-35Bs being loaded with two laser guided bombs and two AMRAAMs in the aircraft’ internal weapons bay, and no external weapons, although it says no weapons have been employed.
“The pilots, crew and aircraft have exceeded all training objectives since deploying to Cyprus, so it was only right that they made the next step on their journey,” the UK Air Commander for the Middle East, Air Cdre Justin Reuter said in a statement.
“The UK has played a vital role in liberating swathes of territory once subjected to Daesh’s cruel regime, and the deployment of our newest and most advanced jets signals our commitment to the enduring defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria.”
The RAF has received 17 of a total requirement for up to 138 F-35Bs. The aircraft will be jointly flown by RAF and Royal navy pilots, and are scheduled to embark upon the RN’s HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time later this year.
“This first operational mission for the UK’s F-35 Lightning confirms the impressive progress which we have made in introducing this formidable new capability into service,” Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said. “It is testament to the outstanding abilities of our dedicated and highly trained air and ground crew that 617 Squadron has achieved this important milestone so quickly and so effectively.
The RAF is the third F-35 operator to fly operational missions with the aircraft, after Israel and the US.
In other F-35 news, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has conducted a 9,000km rapid reaction deployment training mission from Edwards AFB in California to a range in the Netherlands.
The June 13 strike mission was conducted RNLAF pilots and two F-35As based with the joint 323rd Test and Evaluation Squadron (323rd TES) at Edwards AFB, and was supported by a RNLAF KDC-10 tanker. The mission was a key element of the Dutch operational testing and evaluation (OT&E) program.
“The approach of Rapid Reaction Deployment is that a number of F-35s can be deployed within 24 hours, self-supporting, flexible and worldwide to carry out missions, with support from tanker and transport devices,” a RNLAF release reads. “This can be carried out in an environment with a high threat, day and night and in all weather conditions.”
The two aircraft were delayed on the mission after the first tanker experienced refuelling problems. But after a replacement joined the mission in Canada, they crossed the Atlantic and dropped two GBU-49 GPS and laser-guided and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on a target of four containers on the Vlieland range with support from Dutch ground-based Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs).
After the mission, the two aircraft landed at Volkel Air Base in The Netherlands where they took part in an open days event on June 14 and 15. The mission was supported by a single USAF C-17A with 18 personnel to provide all maintenance, armament, life support and spares support.