Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time on Nov. 19, 2018. Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Lindsey Waudby/Royal Navy
April 8 (UPI) -- Britain announced that it plans to deploy its F-35B aircraft for the first time later this year, sending them to Cyprus.
The aircraft will leave from the home station of Royal Air Force Marham in Norfolk, Britain announced Monday, on their way to Royal Air Force Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Britain plans for the jets to hit targets in Syria this summer, The Times reported last December.
Britain currently owns 17 F-35B aircraft, and plans to procure 138 over the life of the program. The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, first landed in West Norfolk in June 2018.
The Lightning Force is jointly manned by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
"These formidable fighters are a national statement of our intent to protect ourselves and our allies from intensifying threats across the world," Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said. "This deployment marks an important milestone in this game-changing aircraft's journey to becoming fully operational."
This deployment is meant to give pilots and crews experience flying and maintaining the aircraft in an unfamiliar environment. Included in the overseas deployment is training and testing on all aspects of moving the aircraft to a new location, including logistics, maintenance and sustainment of all the equipment and crew.
"It is great to see 617 Squadron, the modern day Dambusters, flying the most advanced and dynamic fighter jet in the UK's history and about to start their first overseas deployment," said Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier. "I have no doubt that this short deployment will offer many tests, but likewise I am confident that our highly trained and skilled personnel will rise to the challenge and confirm our ability to deliver truly formidable capability."
The jet can operate from land and sea. It helps deliver a "carrier strike" capability to Britain from the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.
"This first overseas deployment of these world-beating British F-35B aircraft to RAF Akrotiri, together with their embarkation in HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time in the Autumn of this year, are important milestones to prove their readiness for deployed operations anywhere in the world in defense of our national interests," Adm. Sir Philip Jones, chief of Naval staff, said.
The F-35's three main models are the F-35A with conventional takeoff and landing, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing, and the F-35C carrier-based catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery.
In the U.S. military, the U.S. Marine Corps' F-35B reached initial operational capability July 31, 2015, with a squadron of 10 F-35Bs ready for world-wide deployment. The Air Force followed on Aug. 2, 2016, and the Navy on Feb. 28 of this year.