F-35s Fly First Combat Missions From HMS Queen Elizabeth

UK F-35B fighter jets have conducted their first combat missions from aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, joining the fight against the remnants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG21) stealth jets of the renowned 'Dambusters' RAF 617 Squadron carried out operational sorties for the first time in support of Operation Shader and US Operation Inherent Resolve.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the occasion was a "significant moment in history".

"The ability to operate from the sea with the most advanced fighter jets ever created is a significant moment in our history, offering reassurance to our allies and demonstrating the UK’s formidable air power to our adversaries," he added.

"The Carrier Strike Group is a physical embodiment of Global Britain and a show of international military strength that will deter anyone who seeks to undermine global security."

HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently on her maiden voyage leading CSG 21 on the Royal Navy's largest deployment in more than a decade.

The group will visit more than a fifth of the world's nations over 28 weeks.

The beginning of the F-35 sorties marks a change in emphasis for the Carrier Strike Group which has spent recent weeks in the Mediterranean working with NATO allies and partners.

CSG21 F35 jets aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth 22062021 CREDIT MOD Crown copyright
There are currently 18 UK and US F35B jets on board HMS Queen Elizabeth (Picture: MOD).

It marks a new phase of the deployment which the group's Commander, Commodore Steve Moorhouse, says communicates "a wider message" on Britain's international intentions.

"HMS Queen Elizabeth's first missions against Daesh will be remembered as a significant moment in the 50-year lifespan of this ship," he said.

"It also marks a new phase of our current deployment.

"To date, we have delivered diplomatic influence on behalf of the UK through a series of exercises and engagements with our partners – now we are ready to deliver the hard punch of maritime-based airpower against a shared enemy.

"The involvement of HMS Queen Elizabeth and her Air Wing in this campaign also sends a wider message.

"It demonstrates the speed and agility with which a UK-led Carrier Strike Group can inject fifth-generation combat power into any operation, anywhere in the world, thereby offering the British Government, and our allies, true military and political choice."

There are currently 18 UK and US F-35B jets on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest total to sail at sea.

Captain James Blackmore, Commander of the Carrier Air Wing, said the F-35Bs were "ideal" for the mission.

"With its fifth-generation capabilities, including outstanding situational awareness, the F-35B is the ideal aircraft to deliver precision strikes, which is exactly the kind of mission that 617 Squadron has been training for day after day, night after night, for these past few months."