|Lightning Force HQ|
F-35B Lightning of 617 Squadron
|Branch||Ministry of Defence|
- Royal Air Force
- Royal Navy
|Attack||F-35B Lightning II|
The Lightning Force HQ is the overall command organisation controlling the operations of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force. Following on from the principles developed in the operation of the UK's previous STOVL aircraft, the Harrier, the formation is a joint organisation falling under RAF Air Command.
The Lightning Force concept was established during the planning stages for the introduction into UK service of the F-35B, taking the idea that had previously been put in place for the operation of the Harrier. This saw the units of both the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force amalgamated under a single command structure, with crews of both services intermixing in all units. Initially, two operational squadrons were formed to operate the F-35; in July 2013, 617 Squadron was announced as the first operational F-35 squadron, while in September 2013, 809 Naval Air Squadron became the first Fleet Air Arm squadron. These would be tasked primarily with operating from the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, as well as from deployed air bases. The intention is to form two further squadrons, one each from the Fleet Air Arm and RAF, as well as an Operational Conversion Unit, which was formed as 207 Squadron in August 2019.
The Lightning Force was formed as a command organisation in October 2015. In the summer of 2018, 617 Squadron began the process of bringing its new aircraft across the Atlantic to the home base of the new Lightning Force, RAF Marham in Norfolk. The first four aircraft made the transit on 7 June 2018, with another five following in August. In October 2018, HMS Queen Elizabeth undertook the first trial operations of F-35s during her deployment to the United States. 617 Squadron is planned to declare initial operating capability for land based operations by the end of 2018, before beginning carrier trials. 809 Naval Air Squadron is intended to reform by 2023. Two further operational squadrons, one as part of the RAF and the other in the Fleet Air Arm, are also due to be formed.
In May 2019, 617 Squadron took six of its aircraft to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the first time the United Kingdom had sent the F-35 on an overseas deployment. This was undertaken to test the capabilities of the F-35, its crews and support structures on an overseas tour. During this deployment, the aircraft undertook their first operational missions, being used on a total of 14 armed reconnaissance overflights of Syria and Iraq as part of Operation Shader.
In October 2019, Lightnings of 17 Squadron became the first UK-owned examples to begin operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth during the ship's Westlant 19 deployment to the United States, which saw the second-stage flying trials undertaken to continue preparations for the eventual declaration of carrier strike capability.
Lightning Force HQ units
- No. 17 Squadron RAF (2013-)
- No. 207 Squadron RAF (2019-)
- No. 617 Squadron RAF (2018-)
- 809 Naval Air Squadron (2023-)
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