The US Marine Corps has embarked aboard ship the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter for its first operational employment.
The six F-35Bs of Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA)121 embarked aboard the LHD USS Wasp in the East China Sea on March 5. The Wasp has been deployed to Sasebo in Japan to assume the role of flagship of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) for a Western Pacific patrol, while VMFA-121 deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan last year.
“This is a historic deployment,” Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Commanding Officer said in a March 5 release.
“The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground.”
Milestone for #NavyTheNationNeeds with a historic first: #F35B lands on #USSWasp, launching era of increased #USNavy–@USMC sea-based capabilities in Indo–Asian-Pacific – https://t.co/ba1ajyAZTQ pic.twitter.com/WMmSPHtMv5
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) March 5, 2018
Retired USMC Lt Col David Berke, a former F-35B squadron commander and F-22 exchange pilot told Business Insider; “You’re about to put for the first time ever fifth-generation fighters on a ship at sea and put it into a highly contested area that is fraught with geopolitical risk and controversy and tensions.
“The implications of a fifth-generation aeroplane being in [the Pacific] is impossible to overstate. They’re going to provide capability that nobody knows exists yet.”
The USAF also has a squadron of F-35As currently deployed to Japan, while Japan itself is building its own F-35A capability.