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Planning a Historic Deployment: How Lightning Team UK Prepared for CSG

On May 22, 2021, 9 ships, 37 helicopters and jets, and 3,700 sailors, aviators and marines set sail from Portsmouth on the English coast in the largest Royal Navy operational carrier deployment in more than 10 years – the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) deployment. Led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, this months-long deployment has already marked several accomplishments in the time it’s been underway, including the UK F-35B’s first austere exercise, a large-scale exercise incorporating four F-35 operator nations, and a tri-lateral exercise with the French and Americans. Over the course of the next several months the group will cover 26,000 nautical miles and interact with over 40 nations to strengthen partnerships, deter threats and enhance global security.

Thousands of individuals from across the military and industry teams spent several months preparing leading up to this historic event.

Staying Ahead

At RAF Marham, the home base of the UK’s F-35 fleet, Lightning Team UK partners worked alongside partners in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to prep the F-35 fleet for CSG.

Larry Fahrney is Lockheed Martin site lead and head of operations at RAF Marham, and Ed Sheldon is RAF Marham site lead for BAE Systems Air and Lightning Team UK.

“Lightning Team UK is a unique collaboration between the industry partners on F-35: BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce,” explains Sheldon.

“At RAF Marham, we’ve formed a collaborative team so that we can bring the talents from across industry to a single environment supporting the Lighting Force to be able to provide better performance and improved efficiency in what we do to ensure that our customer, the warfighter, can do what they need to do in delivery of mission effect.”

One of the Marham team’s main tasks ahead of CSG was performing months of standard maintenance on the F-35 fleet to preemptively complete actions that would come due while the jets were deployed. This included maintenance on everything from the ejection seat to the engine, and from the landing gear to low observable coatings.

“Anything that requires an engine pull or a lift fan pull or something like a landing gear replacement – the more complicated maintenance tasks – is much easier to complete here at Marham than to try to perform while deployed at sea,” Fahrney said.

“It took 8-10 months of planning and was a lot of extra work for the team, but in the end I’m proud of what we accomplished.” 

Hear more from Larry on the team’s work at RAF Marham:

Training to Win

In addition to the team responsible for performing maintenance on RAF Marham’s F-35 fleet, there are also Lightning Team UK teams that manage the on-site warehouse, supply chain and fleet planning, and the Integrated Training Center (ITC).

Ian Howkins-Griffiths is the Lockheed Martin facilities manager for the ITC, as well as the Maintenance and Finishing Facility and Lightning Operations Center at Marham. He shared that the ITC consists of training devices for both pilots and maintainers. There are multiple devices for maintenance training, including the Aircraft Systems Maintenance Trainer, which enables maintainers to complete virtual training tasks, reducing the inefficiencies and costs that can come with using real and operational jets.

The ITC also hosts a Lockheed Martin-built Full Mission Simulator (FMS), in which pilots can train as if they’re truly in the cockpit of an F-35. BAE Systems instructor pilots are responsible for walking the pilots through the training conducted in the ITC.

Hear more from Ian on his work in the ITC:

For the purposes of deployments, there is also the Deployable Mission Rehearsal Trainer (DMRT). The DMRT is a 40-foot container that contains two “cockpits” on which pilots can conduct training missions. Two DMRTs were installed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in April and will remain onboard throughout CSG to allow pilots to continue training while deployed.

Learn more about the DMRTs here:

No Rest for The Weary

Now that they’ve deployed the fleet to CSG, what’s next for the team at RAF Marham?

“We’re already preparing for the next carrier qualification that’s coming up later this year,” Fahrney said.

For this deployment, Lightning Team UK will need to ready six F-35s for another at-sea deployment.

Howkins-Griffiths said he’s proud to play a role in the team that’s performing this important work for the UK’s armed forces.  “It’s great to be part of the machine that delivers this capability to the carrier… it’s a fabulous job to be in.”

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