F-35Bs from VMFA-121 “Green Knights” are set to deploy to MCAS Iwakuni next year becoming the first Joint Strike Fighters to be fielded in Japan
As reported by Lance Cpl. Joseph Abrego in article VMA-542 HEADS HOME, on Dec. 22, 2016, U.S. Marines with Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 542 “Tigers” completed their Aviation Training Relocation Program (ATR) at Chitose Air Base, and headed back to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan.
The ATR is an effort between the U.S. and Japan governments to increase operational readiness between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF).
It also improves interoperability and reduces noise concerns of aviation training on local communities by disseminating training locations throughout Japan.
“It was a great experience,” said U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Sgt. Austin K. Weber, operations chief for VMA-542. “We really felt like we were working toward something with being in a different environment and getting the aircraft in and out constantly. There was a lot of cross training for the Marines and a lot of knowledge to be gained from the JASDF.”
While learning from the JASDF, the Marines were also able to show their capabilities and share their familiarity with the AV-8B Harriers and unit operations.
“The Marines have a different structure than we do,” said JASDF Staff Sgt. Tomonori Miura, maintenance controller with the 2nd Air Wing Maintenance Supply Group. “They have a different specialty, and they are very efficient with what they do. They have a different jet so I learned a lot about the Harrier and how the maintenance operations work.”
Noteworthy, with the F-35B Lightning II being deployed to Japan in 2017, this could be the last time the AV-8B Harrier visits Hokkaidō: in fact F-35Bs from VMFA-121 “Green Knights” are set to deploy to MCAS Iwakuni in support of the forward deployed 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) next year, becoming the first Joint Strike Fighters to be fielded in Japan.
Moreover, as announced by News.usni.org earlier this year, the U.S. Navy will relocate big deck amphib USS Wasp (LHD-1) from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., to a new homeport in Sasebo, Japan. Actually USS Wasp has been recently modernized to accommodate the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35B), which is capable of Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL), enabling it to operate out of a wide range of bases, both afloat and a shore.
Photo credit: Cpl. James A. Guillory / U.S. Marine Corps