Fighter aircraft from the Royal Air Force, US Marines, US Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force have joined forces to conduct large scale air combat exercises over the North Sea.
Exercise Point Blank is a regular quarterly exercise based in the UK, conducted by the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force. For this exercise both RAF and US Marine Corps F-35B jets are taking part as the first step in their training, ready for deployment on HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force sent its F-35As and there are also two USAF F-16 squadrons that are based in Italy taking part plus US B – the gathering of so many aircraft allows large-scale training missions to be conducted.
UK Minister for Armed Forces James Heappey said, "Flying alongside three fellow NATO nations over and around the UK in a complex war fighting scenario involving over 50 aircraft is exactly the sort of training that keeps our Royal Air Force sharp and ready to operate alongside our allies whenever and wherever the call comes."
The exercise is the first flying training USMC Squadron has carried out following its arrival in the UK at RAF Marham, and follows a period of isolation as a precautionary measure to combat COVID-19.
Commander Mark Sparrow, the Officer Commanding 617 Squadron RAF, said, "This has been a fantastic first step in 617 Squadron operations with the USMC’s VMFA 211 Squadron, as we prepare to embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth as a team. The exercise provided excellent integration training for the F-35Bs with our US, Dutch and the Typhoon Force colleagues."
Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth took part in the exercise to provide the “enemy” role, this adds a significant challenge to the other exercising aircraft.
"This integration is key to Lightning operations and Exercise Point Blank is the first of the many important steps needed to create a fully integrated Carrier Strike Group ready to deploy next year operationally for the first-time onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth," Cdr Sparrow added.
Group Captain Chris Layden, the Station Commander of RAF Lossiemouth, expanded on these comments, saying, "Our Typhoons have played a different role in this iteration of Exercise Point Blank.
"They acted as the Aggressors against the fifth-generation F-35s from the RAF, US Marine Corps, and Royal Netherlands Air Force, simulating the tactics and threats of our adversaries whilst challenging their colleagues in a series of complex air-to-air battles that tested the skills of the pilots involved, and pushed these world-class aircraft to their limits."
Reflecting on the exercise Air Commodore David Arthurton, OBE, the Commander of the UK’s Lightning Force that operates the F-35B Lightning, said, "This exercise is an important training opportunity, allowing the Lightning Force to enhance its interoperability with our American colleagues and conduct very complex training for our personnel on a regular basis.
"Exercise Point Blank also affords an opportunity to integrate with our NATO allies, not only improving our combined potency but also providing a clear demonstration of the Alliance’s resolve."