Military Aviation

F-35Bs FROM USMC VMFA-121 ARE THE FIRST EVER U.S. LIGHTNING IIs TO RELOCATE TO JAPAN

The transition of VMFA-121 from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni marks a significant milestone in the F-35B program

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, transferring to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 9, 2017.

As explained in the article Marine Corps F-35Bs relocate to Japan, the first location to receive the Marine Corps’ F-35B, as part of its worldwide deployment capability, is Iwakuni, Japan.

In Nov. 2012, the Marine Corps announced that after a century of Marine Corps aviation, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing would introduce its first F-35B Lightning II squadron. The F-35B was developed to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler. The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft is a true force multiplier. The unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.

On Nov. 20, 2012 VMFA (All Weather)-121, formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, was re-designated as the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron, VMFA-121. The Commandant of the Marine Corps publicly declared VMFA-121 initial operating capability (IOC) on Jul. 31, 2015, following a five-day operational readiness inspection (ORI). Since IOC, the squadron has continued to fly sorties and employ ordnance as part of their normal training cycle.

In Dec. 2015, VMFA-121 employed its F-35Bs in support of Exercise Steel Knight. The exercise is a combined-arms live-fire exercise which integrates capabilities of air and ground combat elements to complete a wide range of military operations in an austere environment to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). The F-35B preformed exceedingly well during the exercise.

In Oct. 2016, a contingent of Marine Corps F-35B’s, pilots and maintainers participated in Developmental Test III and the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration aboard the USS America (LHA-6). The final test period ensured the plane could operate in the most extreme at-sea conditions, with a range of weapons loadouts and with the newest software variant. Data and lessons learned laid the groundwork for developing the concepts of operations for F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers, the first two of which will take place in 2018.

The transition of VMFA-121 from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni marks a significant milestone in the F-35B program as the Marine Corps continues to lead the way in the advancement of stealth fighter attack aircraft.

An F-35B lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 prepares to take off aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Jan. 9, 2017, as it transits the Pacific en route to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.

Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Liah Kitchen and Lance Cpl. Jake McClung / U.S. Marine Corps

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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