Royal Navy: Frontline squadron to fly RAF’s F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets set to deploy from HMS Prince of Wales

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A second frontline squadron has been stood up to fly the RAF’s F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets which will deploy from HMS Prince of Wales.

The first of the supersonic warplanes touched down at RAF Marham in Norfolk in 2018, arriving from America where they are manufactured. The squadron famously known as the Dambusters, 617 Squadron, was the first to be equipped with the multimillion-pound aircraft.

A second squadron, 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), which is known as the Immortals and has a phoenix on its crest, has now been stood up to fly the F-35 jets as well. The squadron was originally formed in 1941 and most recently operated in 1982, flying during the Falklands War before the squadron was decommissioned in December of that year.

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Commanding Officer of 809 Naval Air Squadron Commander Nick Smith with an F-35 Lightning stealth jet. Pic: Joe Giddens/PA WireCommanding Officer of 809 Naval Air Squadron Commander Nick Smith with an F-35 Lightning stealth jet. Pic: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Commanding Officer of 809 Naval Air Squadron Commander Nick Smith with an F-35 Lightning stealth jet. Pic: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

A parade and flypast marked the resurrection of 809 NAS at RAF Marham on Friday. As part of the ceremony, the former Commanding Officer of 809 NAS Tim Gedge presented the incoming Commanding Officer Nick Smith with the squadron’s crest.

Air Marshal Harvey Smyth, RAF Air and Space Commander, said afterwards that the plan is to be able to “readily deploy two frontline squadrons of Lightnings at sea, up to 24 aircraft” by late 2025. “This is about adding more capability to our combat air force,” he said. He continued: “The Royal Air Force’s primary role is to achieve control of the air in any time of conflict.

“We’re seeing this play out quite clearly in Ukraine at the moment where neither side has been able to gain control of the air. Because they’ve not they’ve ended up descending into a World War One-style trench warfare, attritional warfare, and that’s mostly because neither side control the airspace above.

“It’s really underscoring the incredible importance of control of the air and a vital part of that is F-35, the fifth-generation capabilities. Its ability to work in a very highly-contested environment, particularly where there’s a lot of electronic warfare, and again that’s lessons we’re seeing come out of Ukraine. For me as the Air and Space Commander, today is an excellent moment because we’ve added more capability to the stable of Combat Air. A vital part of that of course is our ability to deploy in from the maritime environment as part of the Carrier Strike Group. It’s brilliant to see us in growth, particularly with F-35.”

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Air Marshall Smyth said Russia’s “illegal invasion of Ukraine” had “reminded us in the UK of the threat from Russia under (Vladimir) Putin’s regime”.

He continued: “What’s been probably the biggest takeaway from Putin’s invasion has been how it’s had the reverse effect of what he thought it would. It has absolutely bolstered the alliance of Nato to the point where two new nations have joined, Finland, and soon to be Sweden.

“It has bolstered our approach as ‘one team, one fight’ and really helped us hone our interoperability and today is very key to that as 809 Squadron brings another frontline UK Lightning Squadron into the mix of our offer to Nato which is the cornerstone of security for the UK.”

He said the squadron will go on to a “pretty intensive work-up period” for much of the next year and continue to grow in size with new jets arriving and more personnel.

The Air Marshal said they will be ready to deploy on Portsmouth-based Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales in 2025.