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China Is Watching U.S. and British F-35B Armed Warships Train in Their Backyard

F-35B Philippine Sea
BF-4 Flt 508 Mr. Peter Wilson and BF-5 Flt 370 Sqn Ldr Andy Adgell fly from HMS Queen Elizabeth on 27 Sep 2018

The “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom remains very much alive and well, and was on display this month in the Philippine Sea as the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) and the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R-08) conducted cyclic flight operations the U.S Navy announced.

For 48 hours, the two warships worked together flexing dual-carrier capability with a total of three F-35B Lightning II detachments. During the operations, the flat tops held cross-deck training exercises involving the F-35s and other aircraft from the respective air wings.

“The two days of continuous flight operations were the culmination of several days of interoperability and maritime strike training with allied airpower on America and Queen Elizabeth,” said Capt. Ken Ward, America‘s commanding officer. “This interaction showcased how quickly and seamlessly the U.S. and U.K. can fold together our combined air power, and execute highly intricate and sustained flight operations to devastatingly lethal effect.”

USS America

According to the U.S. Navy, USS America currently operates with a detachment of F-35s from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, which also reinforces its rotary-wing and tiltrotor aircraft from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The amphibious assault ship also fields a detachment of MH-60S Sea Hawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25.

The 844-foot amphibious assault ship, which operates with a conventional powerplant, is able to function as a light carrier when she embarks a squadron or two of F-35Bs. The warship is homeported at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, and is usually deployed with a company of destroyers and other amphibious ships from the U.S. 7th Fleet.

HMS Queen Elizabeth

The Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth deployed from the UK with 18 F-35Bs, including 10 of which are from U.S. Marine VMFA-211 while the remaining eight are from Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron. The flagship carrier is now on its maiden deployment, during which it is expected to cover 26,000 nautical miles over a period of seven and a half months. In total it will visit some 40 nations.

F-35s operating from the carrier took part in combat sorties against ISIS positions in Iraq before she made her first transit of the Suez Canal in July. More recently, despite protests from Beijing, the carrier sailed through the neutral waters of the South China Sea.

A Small Part of Large-Scale 2021

Both of the flat tops took part in the U.S. Navy’s Large-Scale Exercise 2021, during which Queen Elizabeth launched the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs, while America then recovered, reloaded, refueled, and re-launched the aircraft.

“Conducting exercises with ships of the U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group 7 is another milestone for HMS Queen Elizabeth,” said Royal Navy Capt. Angus Essenhigh, Queen Elizabeth‘s commanding officer. “We have shown interoperability with our allies and as we get accustomed to operating in the Indo-Pacific again these relationships will be important for all future Royal Navy ships operating in the region.”

The Royal Navy carrier and U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship may have some company. On Wednesday the San Diego-based, nuclear-powered Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson – which is now carrying catapult-launched F-35Cs for the first time – was reported to have approached from the east. This flotilla of flat tops and their escorts possess more firepower than the entire fleets of most countries, Forbes reported. That should send a loud and clear message to Beijing and any other potential adversary around the world.


A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Aircraft Refueling Squadron, during an in-air refueling mission supporting Operation Octave Quartz with armed aerial patrols over Somalia, Jan. 5, 2020. Marine F-35Bs support to OOQ demonstrates the U.S. military’s ability to hold adversaries such as al Shabaab at risk with flexible, precise and lethal force capable of rapidly responding anywhere on the globe. The mission of OOQ is to reposition U.S. Department of Defense personnel from Somalia to other locations in East Africa. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Harrison)

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

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