Fighter jets embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth have completed their carrier qualification in the North Sea.
Three days on exercise in the North Sea have seen 617 Squadron, ‘The Dambusters’, and the US Marine Corps’ VMFA-211 jets undergo live weapons training – dropping bombs on a dedicated range off the coast of the UK.
Now with a proven capability to carry out strike missions from HMS Queen Elizabeth in day and night-time conditions, the UK is one step closer to the aircraft carrier’s first operational deployment next year.
Captain James Blackmore, Commander Air Group, said live weapons training alongside the US is a vital “new experience”, stressing that the forces must “step up a gear” for 2021.
During the training, aircraft dropped 500lb Paveway IV high explosive bombs on target – Capt Blackmore adding: “We need to be ready to do this for real”.
The drills mark the first time 617 Squadron have loaded live weapons on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The ship is currently leading a Carrier Strike Group with 15 jets and 11 helicopters on Exercise Joint Warrior.
During the multinational exercise, the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier has also taken on mock air threats posed by Navy Hawk jets from 736 Naval Air Squadron.
“Our role is to be the enemy – the bad guys if you like,” said Lieutenant Commander Jason Flintham, 736’s Commanding Officer.
“It’s not easy, but we try to be as difficult as possible and push the abilities of our personnel to respond to a high-speed aerial threat.
“In one situation, 736 Squadron provided four Hawks as part of an 11-aircraft airborne threat against 11 RAF Typhoons.
“With 22 aircraft in the air fighting on this occasion, it was super exciting to be involved with and it demands much concentration and skill from my navy pilots.”
Cover image: An F-35 on board HMS Queen Elizabeth (Picture: Royal Navy).