The first time US warplanes have gone into combat from a foreign warship since World War II, US Marine Corps fighter jets aboard a British aircraft carrier flew combat missions over the Middle East this week, according to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense.
The missions against ISIS also marked the first combat action for Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s largest ship ever put to sea and the first in a decade for a British aircraft carrier.
The last time American planes flew combat missions from a foreign aircraft carrier, according to Capt. James Blackmore, commander of the air wing aboard Queen Elizabeth, was in 1943 when American planes deployed from Britain’s HMS Victorious in the South Pacific.
In support of the UK’s Operation Shader and the US military’s Operation Inherent Resolve, US F-35B jets flew against ISIS alongside similar British warplanes.
On June 20, 2021, crew members prepare an F-35B jet (right) for takeoff from the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea.
The 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth is carrying a total of 18 F-35Bs from the United States and the United Kingdom, the largest number of advanced warplanes ever deployed on a single ship.
The F-35Bs are state-of-the-art stealth aircraft that can land vertically, allowing them to be deployed on smaller warships than the massive 100,000-ton Nimitz-class aircraft carriers that serve as the US Navy’s backbone.
“The level of integration between Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and US Marine Corps is truly seamless, and testament to how close we’ve become,” Blackmore said.
“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,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement.
Queen Elizabeth is the commander of the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21, which is on a seven-month, 30,000-mile (48,280-kilometer) mission that will take it as far as Japan and South Korea, including a transit of the South China Sea.
During its deployment through the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean on its way to the Pacific, the carrier strike group is expected to visit 40 countries.
“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,” said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, commander of the UK strike group.
“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,” Moorehouse said.
The British combat sorties from the carrier, according to Blackmore, were the first since the UK took part in missions over Libya in 2011 as part of a NATO-led intervention into the country’s civil war.
The British Defense Ministry describes Carrier Strike Group 21 as “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.” The flotilla also includes warships from the United States and the Netherlands.