Tomcats reactivated as VMFA-311. The unit is USMC’s second F-35C Lightning II squadron.

Tomcats reactivated as VMFA-311. The unit is USMC’s second F-35C Lightning II squadron.

By Dario Leone
Apr 21 2023
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Third Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) reactivated Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 311, an F-35C Lightning II squadron, at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, on Apr. 14, 2023.

Third Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) reactivated Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 311, an F-35C Lightning II squadron, at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, on Apr. 14, 2023. VMFA-311 is the US Marine Corps’ second F-35C squadron.

The Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron, VMFA-314, is aligned and deployed last year with the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 9 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).

The F-35C is a land and/or carrier-based platform boasting long-range flight and high weapons payload capabilities. Formerly VMA-311, the Tomcats have made their mark on Marine Corps aviation for decades, and now will continue their legacy.

According to a USMC news release, notable Tomcats veterans include Ted Williams and John Glenn. Ted Williams left a Major League Baseball career for service in World War II and Korea, and later was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. John Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, who later became an astronaut and public servant.

Third MAW Commanding General Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering is also a Tomcat. “Having twice served in VMA-311, the Tomcats hold a special place in my heart,” Gering said. “We are extremely excited to add another F-35C squadron to 3rd MAW. The range and operational flexibility that VMFA-311 will bring to I Marine Expeditionary Force is impressive and adds to our warfighting capacity in every domain.”

Tomcats reactivated as VMFA-311. The unit is USMC’s second F-35C Lightning II squadron.
US Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 311, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), participate in a reactivation ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Apr. 14, 2023. The reactivation and redesignation of VMFA-311 marks the transition for the squadron to the F-35C Lightning II, which brings its unique capabilities to 3rd MAW as a long-range compliment to existing aviation assets. Formerly Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311, the Tomcats have made their mark on Marine Corps aviation for decades, and now will continue their legacy.

The Marine Corps is undergoing a key transition to the F-35 to maintain its advantage in future conflicts, thereby deactivating VMA-311 on Oct. 15, 2020. The reactivation of VMFA-311 marks the transition for the squadron to the F-35C Lightning II, which brings its unique capabilities to 3rd MAW as a long-range compliment to their existing aviation assets.

“The F-35C brings a long-range fighter/attack platform with the most advanced stealth and sensor capabilities in the Marine Corps,” said Lt. Col. Michael P. Fisher, the commanding officer of VMFA-311. “The Harrier was a great weapon that served the Marine Corps well and has been replaced with a more advanced and capable platform. The F-35 was designed for the near-term and future fight.”

The reactivation supports the 2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, which outlines ongoing modernization efforts across Marine aviation. The plan prioritizes readiness, reinforces the importance of flying from the sea, and refocuses on manpower, support to logistics and modern capabilities.

“We are taking an aggressive approach to build capabilities that will move, sustain, and support the individual Marine while making the force more lethal, effective, and survivable,” said then-Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Mark R. Wise in the 2022 plan.

According to USNI News, the “Tomcats” have a storied history dating back to its establishment on Dec. 1, 1942, as VMF-311 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. In its first wartime deployment, the squadron’s F4U Corsairs were pivotal in the island campaigns of the Pacific theater.

Through those years, the squadron achieved several firsts as it transitioned into varying models of different airplanes, including the F4U-1 Corsair, F-80A Shooting Star, F9F2 Panther, F9F-8 Cougar, A-4 Skyhawk and AV-8B Harrier.

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Actually, the squadron led the way for Marine Corps aviation in many groundbreaking events: it was the first Marine squadron to use fighter aircraft for dive bombing missions, flew the first Marine combat mission with jets in 1950 during the Korean War, was the first Marine squadron to employ the AV-8B Harrier in combat during Operation Desert Shield, the first to fly combat missions in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, and participated in the first combat sortie of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

The unit earned five Presidential Unit Citations – the highest honor any military unit can earn – in four different wars and 13 Navy Unit Commendations.

“This reactivation is not about the aircraft, it’s about the people,” said Col. Shannon M. Brown, commander of Marine Aircraft Group 11. “Looking at what this squadron did over the years is impressive considering its 13 Navy Unit Commendations. The Tomcats are all about fighting and winning and now this legacy is entrusted to Lt. Col. Fisher.”

“We will never forget where we came from,” Fisher said in his remarks. “Let’s make history.”

Photo credit: Chief Warrant Officer 2 Trent Randolph / U.S. Marine Corps

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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