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Royal Air Force (RAF) F-35B LIGHTNING IIs have completed their first operational missions, flying alongside TYPHOONs over Syria and Iraq as part of the ongoing fight against Daesh, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt revealed on 25 June.

The decision for the aircraft to make their operational debut from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus was made after what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) terms “exceptional performance of the aircraft, pilots, and support staff” during the successful Exercise Lightning Dawn training event held there, aimed at building capability for the aircraft and supporting elements.

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 Lightning Force is jointly operated by the RAF and Royal Navy (RN). With the ability to operate from land and sea, the F-35 forms a vital part of delivering a ‘carrier strike’ capability to the UK when combined with Britain’s new QUEEN ELIZABETH-class aircraft carriers.

The UK currently owns 17 F-35B aircraft, with the reformed 617 Squadron arriving back in the UK last year. More aircraft are due in Britain over the coming years, including the imminent arrival of 207 Squadron at RAF Marham. There is an overall plan to procure 138 aircraft over the life of the programme, which has already generated $12.9 billion (€11.3 billion) worth of orders and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.

“The pilots, crew and aircraft have exceeded all training objectives since deploying to Cyprus, so it was only right that they made the next step on their journey […] The UK has played a vital role in liberating swathes of territory once subjected to Daesh’s cruel regime, and the deployment of our newest and most advanced jets signals our commitment to the enduring defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” commented UK Air Component Commander for the Middle East, Air Cdre Justin Reuter.

The operational debut of the RAF’s LIGHTNING IIs followed swiftly on the heels of successful training in Cyprus. (Photo: Crown copyright)

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