It’s True—U.S. Marine Corps Jets Could Fly From British Carriers
Royal Navy flattops will enter service before their planes do
The British Royal Navy’s new full-size aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth could deploy for the first time around 2020. Her sister Prince of Wales should follow in 2022. But the vessels’ American-designed F-35B jump jets won’t be fully operational with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy until 2023.
That’s a problem—one that the U.S. Marine Corps could help solve with its own F-35Bs, which could be ready for combat as early as July 2015.
The former chief of the British defense staff, army general David Richards, floated the idea of placing American jump jets on British flattops in late November. “If we can catch up using American aircraft in the intervening period that would make good sense,” Richards told Newsnight.
The Marines are open to the idea—and have been for a while. In early November, the Marine Corps published the 2015 edition of it its aviation plan. Twice in the plan, the Corps’ proposes to send its F-35s into combat aboard British carriers.
In a section about so-called “distributed operations,” wherein the Marines spread out their forces in order to make it harder for the enemy to target them, the plan foresees F-35s—scattered across the battlefield—periodically returning to a ship for repairs.
The vessel could be an American amphibious assault ship “or a coalition carrier, such as the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth,” according to the document.
Elsewhere in the aviation plan, the authors underscore the U.S. F-35Bs’ “interoperability” with Queen Elizabeth. That compatibility “will provide robust and flexible maritime power projection for allied forces.”
So the British and Americans seem amenable to pooling their ships and aircraft as a way of expanding the Marines’ deployment options and ensuring the Royal Navy always has planes for its ships. But there could be complications—namely, to take advantage of the cross-decking, London and Washington would have to go to war together.
While the United States and Great Britain often do team up for combat operations, it’s risky for either country to gamble a major military capability on transatlantic political unity.
Weirdly, if Queen Elizabeth or her sister does take on board a Marine F-35B squadron, the ships could end up hosting … British aviators. That’s because the Marine Corps and the British armed services frequently swap pilots as a part of a longstanding exchange program.
At present, Marines fly British Typhoon jets and Lynx and Sea King helicopters as part of U.K. squadrons. British crews fly F/A-18 jets, MV-22 tiltrotors and AH-1W gunship helicopters in Marine units.