by Dario Leone

VMFA-121 F-35B Lighting II aircraft will replace the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II aircraft currently based at the air station

As reported by  Cpl. Aaron Henson in the article LIGHTNING II STRIKES IWAKUNI, F-35B ARRIVES, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 18, 2017.

VMFA-121 conducted a permanent change of station to MCAS Iwakuni from MCAS Yuma, Arizona, and now belongs to Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“There’s definitely been a lot of challenges . . . moving our aircraft here, the logistics and we have a lot of people to move,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Vincent Koscienlniak, an avionics technician with VMFA-121. “One of our biggest issues was the physical movement and preparing everything to come here. There has been a lot of cooperation within the unit and most of the Marines here are very good at what they do. They are hand-selected, and it has shown the last few months.”

VMFA-121 consists of the F-35B Lighting II aircraft, which is planned to replace the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II aircraft currently based at the air station.

The F-35B Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter, which is the world’s first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. The F-35B brings strategic agility, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy to the Pacific with a mission radius greater than that of the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II in support of the U.S. – Japan alliance.

“The F-35B represents the future of Marine Corps tactical aviation, and bringing it to Japan makes MCAS Iwakuni the second only operational F-35B base,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Jimmy Braudt, a quality assurance officer and pilot with VMFA-121. “One of its capabilities is a powerful sensor suite that fuses together several different sources and provides superior situational awareness to the pilot. It will be the first short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft permanently based in this theater, and it is capable of countering modern threat systems beyond what legacy aircraft were designed to handle.”

Braudt said it impacts the relationship with Japan and other Pacific allies. Bringing the most capable, modern and lethal platform in the U.S. inventory to Iwakuni demonstrates the U.S. Government’s commitment to the defense of Japan.

The Marine Corps conducts the essential training needed to accomplish their assigned mission, including the training and operations required to be ready to defend the Pacific region as necessary.

“VMFA-121 desires to contribute to the readiness of MAG-12, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and III MEF as a whole,” said Braudt. “Our objective is to be highly trained and effective in our platform while learning how to integrate this new capability with the rest of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and our Pacific partner nations. We are happy to be in Japan and look forward to the culture we will get to experience, and we would like to thank the people of Yamaguchi Prefecture and Iwakuni for being excellent hosts.”

Photo credit: Sgt. Lillian Stephens / U.S. Marine Corps

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