F-35B Lightning deploys with U.S. Navy ship, prepares for flight qualifications

EAST CHINA SEA. U.S. Navy officials announced then first deployment of the F-35B Lightning II with a naval ship and a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific. For the first time, a detachment of F-35B Lightning II's with Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) arrived aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) on March 5th.

The arrival of the F-35B culminates testing and shipboard structural modifications on Wasp that began in 2013. Wasp completed an overhaul in 2017 and subsequently departed Norfolk to forward-deploy to Sasebo, Japan, as part of a Department of Defense (DoD) effort to place the most advanced capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.

"Deployment of the versatile F-35B enhances the full range of Expeditionary Strike Group capabilities with one of the world's most technologically-advanced air warfare platforms," says Capt. Colby Howard, Wasp commanding officer. "With the specific upgrades Wasp has received, the Navy Marine Corps team in the Pacific is better positioned than ever before to support our commitment to the security of Japan and the Region."

The F-35B, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), will provide a robust set of sea-based capabilities that will enhance Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary operations, Navy officials say. The aircraft is capable of conducting precision strikes inland, supporting Marines inserted ashore or providing air defense for the Expeditionary Strike Group.

VMFA-121 Pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. Following qualifications, the F-35B's and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group for follow-on operations in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the 'Up-Gunned ESG' concept.

The 'Up-gunned ESG' is a U.S. Pacific-fleet initiated concept that aims to provide lethality and survivability to a traditional three-ship amphibious ready group by integrating multi-mission surface combatants and F-35B into amphibious operations. By adding these enabling capabilities, the amphibious force can more effectively defend against adversarial threats in the undersea, surface and air domains, as well provide offensive firepower to strike from the sea.

The 31st MEU is the only forward-deployed MEU in the region. The F-35B serves as one airframe within a multitude of air capabilities of the MEU's Air Combat Element. Air, ground and logistics forces make up the MEU's Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a composite of capabilities that allow the MEU, in partnership with Navy amphibious ships, to conduct a wide-range of missions from crisis response to disaster relief.