A detachment of F-35Bs with Fighter Attack Squadron 121 arrived aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, marking the first time the aircraft has deployed operationally aboard a US Navy ship.
The F-35B, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will provide a robust set of sea-based capabilities that will enhance Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary operations they say. The aircraft is equally capable of conducting precision strikes inland, supporting Marines inserted ashore or providing air defence for the Expeditionary Strike Group.
“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.”
VMFA-121 Pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. Following qualifications, the F-35Bs 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 US 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 US Navy amphibious ships, to conduct a wide-range of missions from crisis response to disaster relief.