The Royal Air Force’s No 617 Squadron is deploying six F-35B Lightnings to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus today for Exercise Lightning Dawn – the first overseas deployment for the fighter in UK service. The purpose of the deployment will be to test the sustainment of the force away from its main operating base at RAF Marham, Norfolk, and enhance its preparedness for its first operational carrier deployment later this year.
The deployment is the first visit to Cyprus by any F-35 aircraft. In addition to routine training sorties, the UK Lightning Force will take the opportunity to train with allies in the region to build international interoperability. Currently, RAF Typhoon FGR4s are conducting combat missions from Akrotiri, targeting insurgents of so-called Islamic State.
Departure of the six Lightnings from Marham was marked with a media event at the base – a pair of RAF Voyager tankers supported the jets on their flight to the Mediterranean. The UK currently operates 17 F-35Bs, nine of which are assigned to No 617 Squadron in the UK.
RAF Marham station commander, Group Captain Townsend said: “It’s just over 76 years since 617 Squadron formed to conduct ground-breaking operations, they are once again called upon to take a capability forwards for the first time. 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.”
F-35 Lightning aircraft from 617 Sqn left @RAFMarhamMedia for Cyprus this morning to take part in its first overseas training exercise.
— Royal Air Force (@RoyalAirForce) May 21, 2019
On April 8 the Ministry of Defence announced the F-35Bs would depart their home station of RAF Marham “later this year”. Chief of the Air Staff ACM Sir Stephen Hillier said at the time: “I have no doubt that this short deployment will offer many tests, but likewise I am confident that our highly trained and skilled personnel will rise to the challenge and confirm our ability to deliver truly formidable capability.”
Speaking in April, Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB ADC DL Royal Navy, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff added: “This first overseas deployment of these world-beating British F-35B aircraft to RAF Akrotiri, together with their embarkation in HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time in the autumn of this year, are important milestones to prove their readiness for deployed operations anywhere in the world in defence of our national interests.”
The forthcoming July issue of AFM will include a full report on Exercise Lightning Dawn as well as a 24-page UK combat air supplement featuring the Lightning Force, Centurion Typhoon and Team Tempest.
First jets to taxi as 617 Sqn depart on their first overseas deployment. pic.twitter.com/zVWcz8OHOP
— Stn Cdr Marham (@StnCdrRAFMarham) May 21, 2019