In a first for the short-takeoff vertical-landing capable aircraft, several Marine Corps F-35Bs landed on the USS Wasp (LHD-1) for deployment aboard the Navy big-deck amphibious assault ship.
The detachment of F-35s, assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), alit on the Wasp’s deck March 5 to begin a deployment in the Asia-Pacific with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The aircraft are set to sail with 31st MEU during its upcoming Spring Patrol 2018, a regularly-scheduled cruise through the Pacific with the larger Wasp Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG).
“Pairing F-35B Lightning II’s with the Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7. “This 5th generation stealth jet is extremely versatile, and will greatly enhance and expand our operational capabilities.”
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 effort to place the most advanced capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.
VMFA-121 pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. Following qualifications, the aircraft and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) for follow-on operations in the Asia-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 concept initiated by U.S. Pacific fleet 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 unit of its size in the region. The F-35B serves as one airframe of many platforms in 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.
“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st MEU commanding officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
Multi-mission guided-missile destroyers USS Dewey (DDG-105), with embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 and USS Sterett (DDG-104), with embarked Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 49 are scheduled to support a range of operations and training with the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group for varying stretches during the patrol.
“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,” said Wasp Commanding Officer Capt. Colby Howard. 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.”