Air Platforms

USMC prepares for F-35B maiden operational embarkation

05 March 2018
An advance party of F-35Bs from VFMA 121 arrive aboard USS Wasp ahead of the unit joining the 31st MEU's upcoming patrol of the Indo-Pacific region. Source: US DoD

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is in the final stages of preparation for the first operational shipborne embarkation of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), with the arrival of an advance detachment of aircraft on USS Wasp (LHD-1) on 5 March.

An undisclosed number of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VFMA) 121 currently stationed in Japan have been deployed to the USS Wasp amphibious assault ship to undertake final preparations ahead of the unit’s first shipborne deployment.

The squadron will join the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) patrolling the Indo-Pacific region in the coming weeks with the ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 that form the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group. This deployment will mark the beginning of the MEU’s transition over to the F-35B from the McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, which has been in service since the mid-1980s.

Having been the first operator to declare initial operating capability for the F-35, the USMC is leading the way in developing and rolling out the capabilities of the fifth-generation fighter, and VFMA 121 has been at the forefront of the corps’ effort to develop the F-35B’s tactical capabilities.

In December 2015 the USMC undertook Exercise ‘Steel Knight’, which was a live-fire wargame that included the F-35B in integrated air and ground operations in an austere environment. This was done to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), and the F-35B performed “exceedingly well”, according to the corps.

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