The UK’s F-35B Lightnings deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, since May have been flying combat missions over Syria and Iraq, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has revealed. The news came as she visited the deployed elements of No 617 Squadron ‘Dambusters’ at the base.
She told reporters that the first operational sorties were flown on June 16 targeting the last remnants of so-called Islamic State (IS). To date the six deployed F-35Bs have flown 14 operational sorties under ‘Lightning Dawn’, the first British F-35B overseas deployment, but they are not believed to have dropped any weapons.
The F-35s arrived at Akrotiri on May 21, and are expected to return home to RAF Marham in July.
The pace of operations for No 617 Squadron is expected to continue with elements of the unit expected to join operational trials later this year aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The UK currently operates 17 F-35Bs, nine of which are assigned to No 617 Squadron in the UK, with the Operational Conversion Unit (No 207 Squadron) expected to commence operations from Marham from the end of July as more jets arrive in the UK from MCAS Beaufort, where they have been used for joint training alongside the US Marine Corps.