MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. --
Attack Training Squadron 501 is slated to receive more pilots and maintainers
from the U.K. in the next few months. The incoming personnel will join their
countrymen who are working side by side with Marines on improving their
capability with the F-35B Lightning II aboard Marine Corps Air Station
currently 14 U.K. service members at VMFAT-501. The British operators have been
in Beaufort since February 2015, when the Royal Air Force flew three F-35s to
“Day to day, we do
a little bit of everything,” said Squadron Ldr. Hugh Nichols, the U.K. senior
national representative with VMFAT-501. “From teaching the new pilots, which is
our main focus, to generating a syllabus as we look at new capabilities and
roles the F-35 can fill, and how we can teach them to the new pilots.”
Expanding their manpower in
Beaufort is a step forward for the U.K.’s goal of achieving F-35 capabilities. In
2018, the plan is for U.K.'s F-35 team to achieve initial operating capability
in a land-based role and aboard the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier
that we can operate from VMFAT-501 for the next couple years means we will be
ahead of the game when it comes to developing our own capabilities back on U.K.
soil come 2018," said Lieutenant Commander Beth Kitchen, the U.K. senior
engineering officer at VMFAT-501.
The teamwork between the two
nations is crucial to the international aspect of the F-35. No one country is
solely responsible for its use so diplomacy is important.
“The concept of us
working together is that we will all come out at the end of this with a right
way of operating the F-35, as opposed to the Marine Corps or U.K. way, to meet
a middle ground,” said Nichols.
The international team is fully integrated in the Marine
unit, working together to gain proficiency with the brand new jet. Service
members will take the knowledge and skills they learn in this training
environment and bring it to their operational units.
“We are making
sure that the aircraft is maintained and the U.K. is able to develop its own
engineering maintenance and air competency in order to independently operate
the aircraft,” said Kitchen.
In addition to the
new pilots and maintainers arriving at the air station, the Royal Air Force is
currently building their own Pilot Training Center. The U.K. plans to
eventually purchase and maintain their own F-35s.
“Jets will start
to roll off the production line early to mid-next year, and will slowly
increase until 2018,” said Nichols.
The U.K. is
planning to continue expanding their capabilities at VMFAT-501 for the next few
years. The F-35 is the U.K.’s future maritime strike ground attack fighter
“I think it’s a
huge achievement with how complex the program is, the different services we’ve
got, and different languages,” said Nichols. “The fact that we can mesh it all
together is outstanding.”
With the expanded
capabilities of the U.K. and the continued diligence of the Marines, both sides
are able to figure out the most sufficient, safe, and tactical ways to operate