In an indication of the strength of our bi-lateral relationship with the US, the Minister joined US Deputy Defence Secretary Bob Work on a programme of visits in the south-east of the country.
The Minister visited the US Marine Corp Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina where he met with RAF and Royal Navy personnel who are training on the new F-35B Lightning aircraft. As partners on the F-35 programme, the UK is working closely with the US. This allows UK personnel to train and learn alongside the US which was the first country to reach Initial Operating Capability in summer 2015.
Minister for Defence Procurement Philip Dunne said:
This has been an excellent opportunity to see at first-hand how closely UK and US Armed Forces work together, and to discuss with Deputy Secretary Work how we can take that even further. The ability of British and American military personnel to work so well together, with common approaches, common understanding and, where appropriate, common capabilities is vital to both our nations’ security.
The F-35B Lightning is a 5th generation multi-role combat aircraft with advanced sensors, mission systems and stealth technology. Operating from land bases and our Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers, it will deliver a cutting-edge capability for the UK. Members of 617 Squadron, the RAF’s first F-35B Lightning Squadron, were able to show Mr Dunne around the aircraft and the training they have been doing.
Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols, UK Senior National Representative, 617 Squadron, said:
The opportunity to meet the Minister and spend a considerable amount of time showing him around the Squadron was a privilege. He was given a flavour of the entire spectrum of work here at VMFAT-501, highlighting the importance of the experience that these early 617 Squadron UK service personnel are gaining during their time here in South Carolina.
We were also able to show the Minister some recorded video from recent missions which showcased the F-35 sensor suite and data processing.
From Beaufort, the Minister flew to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, where he met RAF personnel who are maintaining and developing skills to deliver the UK’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability. As announced in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK will buy the Poseidon P-8 aircraft from the US. The Minister also had the opportunity to fly on board a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft manned by US Navy and RAF personnel.
The Minister went on to US Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia for a visit to the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic (SWFLANT), which provides support to the UK Vanguard Class and US Ohio Class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
In combination, these visits provided the Minister with a unique insight into how the US generates and operates its capabilities and the unrivalled value that the UK gains through collaboration with the US.