Britain’s new F35 fighter jets have been used on operations for the first time, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has revealed.
The first operational sorties were flown on June 16 from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, targeting the last remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The six stealth fighters based in Cyprus have conducted a total of 14 operational sorties over Syria and Iraq following a six-week training deployment in the country from May.
Speaking after sitting in the cockpit of the one of jets, Ms Mordaunt said: “I am very proud that these are now flying in defence and are projecting the UK’s national interest.
“This is a fantastic new aircraft, it is amazing. It’s doing so well out here on these operations… it’s a really historic moment.”
© Press Association An F-35 arriving back at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus
The F-35 aircraft have operated alongside Typhoon fighters on “armed overwatch” missions. So far the F-35s have not dropped any of the Paveway IV laser-guided bombs they have been carrying.
The new mission will be only a short-term addition to the air forces operating against Isil. The stealth fighters are due to return to their home base at RAF Marham, Norfolk, in July.
© Press Association The Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt being shown around the F-35 jets by John Butcher, officer comanding 617 squadron, at RAF Akrotiri.An MoD spokesman told the Telegraph that the “proof of concept” deployment of the aircraft from 617 Squadron to Cyprus had gone well.
“They have been patrolling, watching and listening,” the spokesman said, “hoovering up information” on every sortie.
© Press Association Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt sits in the cockpit of a F-35 Lightning jet at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.Group Captain Jonny Moreton, the Commanding Officer of 903 Expeditionary Air Wing based at RAF Akrotiri, said there had yet to be any requirement for the F-35s to attack.
“We haven’t dropped any weapons from Typhoon in that period either,” he added. “It is not a very kinetic phase of the operation at the moment.”
Britain currently has 17 F-35Bs – the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the fighters – and has committed £9.1 billion to buy the first 48 aircraft.
The MoD has said it will buy a total of 138 jets, but no decision has yet been taken on which variants will make up the remaining batch.