RAF STATION AKROTIRI, CYPRUS – According to the Ministry of Defence of the UK, the British F-35B has successfully completed its first operational missions in the Middle East on June 16, 2019. UK’s newest and most advanced fighter jet, the F-35B – Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) variant of the F-35 Ligtning II – has made history.
UK F-35’s First Operational Flights
The Defence Secretary has confirmed on Tuesday that F-35s – together with Eurofighter Typhoon jets – have flown on operational flights over the skies of Syria and Iraq, as part of the ongoing fight against Daesh (ISIS in Arabic).
The first RAF F-35B operational sorties were flown on Sunday 16 June in support of Operation Shader, the UK contribution to the Global Coalition’s counter Daesh mission in Iraq and Syria. The two aircraft conducted a patrol over Syria, and UK F-35s have flown a further 12 sorties since then.
The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short take-offs and vertical landings.
The F-35s were first deployed in Cyprus for a successful training period, known as Exercise Lightning Dawn, aimed at building capability for the aircraft and supporting elements.
Due to the fantastic performance of the F-35, its pilots and support staff during this training period, it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut from RAF Akrotiri, alongside the Eurofighter Typhoons.
Defence Sectretary Penny Mordaunt, said: “The F-35s are the most advanced jets our country has ever possessed and will form the backbone of British air defence for decades to come. They have passed every test their training has thrown at them with flying colours and their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the UK”.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: “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. 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”.
Admiral Tony Radakin CB ADC, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, said: “It’s great to see our F35B Lightning jets already proving themselves on operations so early in their life cycle, ably demonstrating the fantastic capability these world-leading aircraft offer”.
“This Autumn, our aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will return to the East Coast of the United States to conduct Operational Trials with our Lightning Force, taking this 5th generation capability to the next level as they prove their ability to operate from the sea”.
“For decades to come, this exciting new combination of aircraft carriers and F35B Lightnings will provide a potent, globally deployable carrier strike capability, a powerful conventional deterrent and the centrepiece of our country’s expeditionary forces”.
RAF Station Akrokiri
RAF Akrotiri is 260 miles from Aleppo in Syria – very convenient for launching operations over the country. The station has its own ranges and mock urban training compound in place.
RAF Akrotiri has been involved in operations in the Middle East for many years. 24 hour operations were launched in 2003 during the Gulf War. There were more than 15,000 aircraft movements that year. The station was used as the air bridge into Afghanistan during Operation Herrick and was a staging base for support aircraft involved in Operation Ellamy over Libya in 2011.
RAF Akrotiri has also been used for many years as the winter training ground for the Red Arrows.
Top photo: Ministry of Defence