The United States Navy has deployed a detachment of F-35B Lightning II’s under Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) on March 5. The F-35Bs are assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
According to US Navy this is the first time F-35B aircraft deployed aboard a US Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific.
“Pairing F-35B Lightning II’s with the Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7. “This 5th generation stealth jet is extremely versatile, and will greatly enhance and expand our operational capabilities.”
“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st MEU Commanding Officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
The US Navy said VMFA-121 pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period.
After the qualifications, the F-35B’s and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group for follow-on operations in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept.
“The 31st MEU is the only forward-deployed MEU in the region. The F-35B serves as one airframe within a multitude of air capabilities of the MEU’s Air Combat Element. Air, ground, and logistics forces make up the MEU’s Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a composite of capabilities that allow the MEU, in partnership with Navy amphibious ships, to conduct a wide-range of missions from crisis response to disaster relief,” the US Navy said.