The British Royal Navy has revealed that a F-35 Lightning fighter jet was ‘tooled up’ with weaponry for the first time on the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.
F-35 was loaded with an arsenal, including inert Paveway laser-guided bombs and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles.
The fully loaded fighter jet is nicknamed ‘beast mode’ due to its destructive firepower. It is said to provide nearly three times more firepower than a Harrier attack aircraft.
The Royal Navy said in a statement: “Loaded on to this state-of-the-art jet from 17 (trials and evaluation) is the weaponry it would typically carry on a strike mission: 22,000lb of destructive and defensive power.
“In this case the ‘bombheads’ on HMS Queen Elizabeth, red-surcout-wearing air engineer technicians, carefully loaded inert Paveway laser-guided bombs and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles (for taking out aerial threats) on to the external pylons and bomb bay.”
The aircraft carrier has an automated system to get the firepower from the magazines in the bowels to the flight deck.
The ship’s highly mechanised weapon handling system enables mechanical ‘moles’ to move to carry weapon loads on pallets to the vessel’s weapon preparation areas or hangar.
Hydraulic lifts are used to support the movement of weapons. The network of tracks used by the weapon handling system is remotely controlled from operator consoles.
Once the weapons are moved to the flight deck, they are transported using trolleys to the aircraft.
The navy added: “A system like this has never been fitted to a ship before and allows weapon moves with far fewer people involved than more traditional manual handling methods, supporting a greater rate of weapon re-supply to aircraft and therefore a better mission sortie rate.”
The beast mode on the carrier represents another significant milestone in the creation of a carrier strike capability.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is undergoing trials off the east coast of the US. Aerial platforms currently onboard the carrier include F-35s and Merlin helicopters.
The ship is expected to make its first deployment in 2021.