With the rapid expansion of the F-35B Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing (V/STOL) stealth fighter into numerous allied air forces and navies, the idea of ‘cross-decking’ them aboard U.S. warships, and vice versa is gaining ground. As I have previously reported, the concept is being considered by Australia and Italy, among others.
But most recently it was seen in action with U.S. F-35Bs flown by U.S. Marine Corps aviators taking part in combat operations alongside Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots from the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, last month.
This was the first time American aircraft flew a combat mission from a British warship since World War II. Both the RAF’s 617 Squadron, “The Dambusters,” and USMC Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, “Wake Island Avengers,” were deployed as part of an anti-ISIS mission.
Last week USNI News reported that the UK’s secretary of state for defence, Ben Wallace, said he would also welcome a chance to embark a squadron of its F-35B Joint Strike Fighters aboard an American amphibious assault ship.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens without our F-35Bs and whether we find ourselves on a U.S… ship in the future. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for it. And we shouldn’t be anchored to one type or the other. The French have used the Charles de Gaulle often to do strikes against Islamist targets in Africa. And it is a floating airfield, as well as a floating intelligence collection capability, [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] capability and protection, as well as a convener.
Wallace added: “If the U.S. Marine Corps wants us to return the favor, I would be delighted to deploy a squadron.” Wallace also said that this concept isn’t limited to the U.S., it demonstrates the possibilities for other NATO allies and partners to have their aircraft embarked on the Royal Navy’s flagship carrier. “The whole point of it is it’s a carrier that will interoperate very well with F-35Bs,” said Wallace.
To make the point, the British defence secretary recently met with his Italian counterparts, as Italy has begun to deploy the Joint Strike Fighter on its own carrier, Cavour. So, there is the possibility of Italian F-35Bs flying from “Big Lizzie” at some point as well.
And then there is Australia which is considering deploying F-35Bs aboard its two Canberra class amphibious assault LHDs, which are like U.S. Wasp-class ships. Australia is still debating the merits of adding F-35Bs to these amphibious ships.
But this could be part of a much larger global strategy allowed by the widespread adoption of the F-35s by America’s allies. Defense Connect notes, “What if Australia actively pursued what the United States Studies Centre (USSC) defines as ‘capability aggregation and collective deterrence in the Indo-Pacific’ by enabling the cross-decking of American, Japanese, South Korean and eventually British F-35Bs operating in the region?”
It seems we may be heading in that direction, sooner rather than later. ADN