The UK’s newest and most advanced generation of fighter jet, the Lightning F-35B, has completed its first operational missions to Syria and Iraq, as part of the ongoing fight against Daesh, following a successful training period in Cyprus, UK Defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt said during a visit she paid to the British Bases in Cyprus.
Mordaunt, who had a meeting with Defence Minister Savvas Angelides, during her visit to the island, told the media that "it was really great to talk to him about the common threats that we face and how together we can work to tacke them", noting that "I have seen over those years our defense partnership grow."
"What we have seen over recent years is an ever closer partnership forming and I want to take that forward," she noted, adding that "we are living in some very uncertain time. There is obviously rising tensions. We are calling on Iran to de-escalate those tensions and really the ball is in their court to do that. Our Foreign Secretary has been very clear on that. That would be our posture and our stance. Of course that was one of the areas that we have discussed."
Invited to say if Cyprus is an important ally for the UK in the Mediterranean, the Defence Secretary said that it is not just because of the strategic importance "but also of our shared objectives. I think now, more than ever, we want to defend the rules-based order. We want to be demonstrating that together we have resolve against all those increasing threats that we face. So it is a really important partnership," she stressed
Asked about the Turkish threats in the Eastern Mediterranean, Mordaunt said that "we have a clear partnership with Cyprus and indeed Turkey is a NATO ally of ours. But where we have disagreements we think those disagreements should be talked out. That is the only way to resolve them and indeed, that was my message with your Defence Minister".
To a question about the F-35, Mordaunt said that "it has been out here training, it is a proof of concept deployment to see how it does in this forwarding environment. But it has done so well we have actually moved it to do some operations and so for the last week it is flying on operations, performing very good indeed. It`s very good. Practice and exercise for all of the support team as well as the pilots. So far it has been extremely successful."
To a question about the operation over Syria and Iraq, the Defence Secretary said that the operation is going very well there. So compared a few years ago when I was a Minister of State for the Armed Forces the operation tempo for these aircrafts was much higher. But now it`s not so much. But they are ready if they are needed, she added.
Asked if they will be stationed in Cyprus permanently, Mordaunt replied: "No. We will move these aircrafts around and later this year they will be joining the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. They are part of our global force where we have to do patrols in Estonia, where we are helping out in Mali, all over the world with the assets that we have. But it is great that they are here in Cyprus. I am particularly proud that there first operational deployment has been from Akrotiri."
Invited to say if the UK is bying more F-35s, Mordaunt said that "we have an equipment program that we are on schedule to deliver. Yes they are going to be an incredibly important part of our future force and they are very versatile aircraft and they are performing incredibly well."
The Defence Minister said that "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," she noted, adding that the Lightning force is jointly operated by the RAF and Royal Navy. 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.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said that "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 that "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,” he added
UK Air Component Commander for the Middle East, Air Commodore Justin Reuter, said that "having exceeded all training objectives during the deployment to Cyprus we have committed the UK’s Fifth Generation fighter, the F-35B, to the counter-Daesh fight on Op SHADER.
“The aircraft is available for a short period before returning to the Carrier Strike programme and it offers me, the UK Air Component Commander, cutting edge multi-role capability in the continued operation to support our partners to destroy Daesh in Iraq and Syria,” he noted.