THE future of the most famous squadron in the Royal Air Force - the Lossiemouth-based “Dambusters” - was today secured by the Ministry of Defence.
Fears that the illustrious 617 Squadron could be confined to the pages of history as a result of the current defence cuts were quashed when RAF chiefs announced that the Moray squadron is to be the first to fly the new Lightning warplanes.
617 Squadron will briefly disband next April as part of the planned drawdown of the Tornado GR4 force. It will then reform in 2016, taking delivery of the highly advanced Lightning II.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, Chief of the Air Staff, made the announcement at a Royal United Services Institute conference on Air Power attended by senior representatives of air forces from around the world.
Sir Stephen said: “I am delighted to announce that 617 Squadron’s outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s air power - past and present - will unequivocally continue when it reforms as the UK’s first operational F-35B Lightning II squadron.
“The Lightning’s state of the art stealth and precision target capabilities, together with the battle-proven Typhoon force, will complement each others capabilities and set the base-line for UK Combat ISTAR2 air power as a contemporary global force for the 2020s and beyond.”
He added: ““Lightning shall be operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm pilots, from land or from the Queen Elizabeth Class carrier. Overall, a hugely flexible and futuristic joint capability.”
An MoD spokesman explained: “The UK’s Lightning II is the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, which will give the supersonic multi-role stealth aircraft the ability to operate from land or sea. When it reforms in 2016, 617 Squadron will have both RAF and Royal Navy personnel. The next squadron will carry a Royal Navy squadron number but be similarly jointly manned.”
In May, 1943, the courageous crews of 617 Squadron became legends after their spectacularly successful bombing raids on the dams in the Ruhr Valley of Germany, using the famous “bouncing bobs” invented by Sir Barnes Wallis.
A total of 133 airmen in 19 aircraft took part in the historically significant attacks on the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams.
The squadron has twice been disbanded previously and reformed as it has moved from operating the Lancaster to the Vulcan to the Tornado. Later this year 617 Squadron will deploy to Afghanistan for the last time as a Tornado GR4 Squadron to support NATO and Afghan troops.