US Marines’ F35 head for first operational overseas deployment

Marine Corps F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 during transit to Iwakuni, Japan. Photo: US Marine Corps

A U.S. Marines’ F-35B squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, will become the first F35B squadron on an overseas deployment after heading for the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, on January 9.

Iwakuni, Japan is thereby becoming the first location to receive the Marine Corps’ F-35B, as part of its worldwide deployment capability.

In November 2012, the Marine Corps announced that after a century of Marine Corps aviation, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing would introduce its first F-35B Lightning II squadron.

The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B was developed to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler.

The VMFA-121 is the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron. In December 2015, VMFA-121 employed its F-35Bs in support of exercise Steel Knight. The exercise is a combined-arms live-fire exercise which integrates capabilities of air and ground combat elements to complete a wide range of military operations in an austere environment to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).

In October 2016, a contingent of Marine Corps F-35B’s, pilots and maintainers participated in Developmental Test III and the lightning carrier proof of concept demonstration aboard the USS America (LHA-6).

The final test period ensured the plane could operate in the most extreme at-sea conditions, with a range of weapons loadouts and with the newest software variant. Data and lessons learned laid the groundwork for developing the concepts of operations for F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers, the first two of which will take place in 2018.

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