Point-blank training for F-35s before joining HMS Queen Elizabeth

Naval aviators are grappling with 50 fighters and bombers over the North Sea to hone combat skills before joining HMS Queen Elizabeth for autumn exercises.

Sea to hone combat skills before joining HMS Queen Elizabeth for autumn exercises.

Eighty years since the Battle of Britain reached its climax in UK skies, British, US and Dutch jets have ‘joined battle’ for the latest Point Blank exercise.

British, American and Dutch F-35 stealth fighters shared airspace with RAF Typhoons, US Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s and even mighty B-52 bombers, while RAF Voyagers and American KC-135 Stratotankers kept fuel tanks topped up to allow the dogfights to continue.

Held every few months, Point Blank focuses on the ability of British and American air power to fly and fight side-by-side.

The latest iteration of the exercise – the fourth held this year – expanded to embrace the Dutch (who operate the conventional, land-based version of the F-35, the A variant, rather than the ‘jump jet’ B version flown by the RN, RAF and US Marine Corps), while the Americans have also brought in two F-16 Hornet squadrons from Italy.

It’s been a fantastic first step in 617 Squadron operations with the US Marine Corps’ VMFA 211 Squadron as we prepare to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth as a team. The exercise provided excellent integration training and this integration is key to Lightning operations.

Commander Mark Sparrow

The British (617 Squadron) and American (USMC’s VMFA 211 Squadron) F-35 formations are due to embark side-by-side on Royal Navy carrier Queen Elizabeth in a few weeks for the final workout of the ship and her broader task group before they deploy for the first time in the new year.

The Americans flew into 617’s home at Marham last week, having spent a few days in isolation and on the trainers/simulators getting used to UK procedures and airspace, before scrambling for Point Blank.

The fifth-generation stealth fighters from the three Allied nations were tested by the Typhoons – for once in an exercise playing the role of attackers/enemy, simulating the tactics and threats of our adversaries to push all participants to their limits.

Commander Mark Sparrow, the Fleet Air Arm Officer in charge of the legendary Dambusters Squadron – whose air and ground personnel are drawn from both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force – described Point Blank as “the first of the many important steps needed to create a fully integrated Carrier Strike Group ready to deploy next year operationally for the first-time onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

“It’s been a fantastic first step in 617 Squadron operations with the US Marine Corps’ VMFA 211 Squadron as we prepare to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth as a team,” he said.

“The exercise provided excellent integration training and this integration is key to Lightning operations.”