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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. For me the UK need to follow the MAGTF force structure and build it out to all parts of our force to create a single defence structure.

    They do everything they do on 50% of the UK defence budget and have more of everything than us. Surely we can replicate this and use the other 50% to build out the capabilities that the marines dont have (some air, land and Sea assets and Nuclear)..

    Very efficient well equipped force, that we can learn a lot from – and they dont need to borrow equipment when sent to theatre.

    • I see you trump out this idea of a single force structure on a regular basis and first and foremost I think you’re entirely wrong.

      I joined the RAF, not the Navy and not the Army. I’m also certain you will hear the same from members of my sister services.

      Further the Canadians tried this a few years back and it was roundly regarded as a total failure and they quickly reverted back to individual services.

      Now joint operations are excellent, and are the best way to project force. However they only work so well due to the unique perspectives provided by the individual services and having an innate knowledge of how they operate.

      Finally I would ask you to read this article;

      https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/all-things-to-all-men-blank-slates-and.html

      I think it clearly highlights that the USMC model is not a panacea for the UK Armed forces budget issues. The USMC is greater than the sum of it’s own parts and relies greatly on the other 3 branches of the US Military.

      Thank you. Your fantasy fleets are always a source of great amusement. (although I appreciate the sentiments and endeavour.)

      • its quite amazing to me that contributors find it necessary to sneer at others input, as though they were Masters of the universe as with the above. Rather arrogant I find

        • Whilst I agree a certain amount of etiquette should be maintained, raftastic does have a point. There is no way to model our armed forced on the US Marines without taking into account the amount of support that they rely on from the other services. An Amphibious Ready Group deploys with a Naval Support Element of an amphibious assault ship, amphibious transport dock and a dock landing ship (all US Navy), not to mention escorts and such and that’s just when deploying in an amphibious role.

          • Steve , Raf

            I am fine with the banter and feedback and take it as it is meant. My views are entirely my own and as I always am keen to note the USMC does not cover everything – but and it is a big but they do an awful lot on a lot smaller budget than the UK and we need to take a look at why.

            I am not against separate force structures, but it seems to me decisions are tooth the inter service rivalry is actually doing the whole service down. We have a limited budget (which is x2 the USMC) but don’t seem able to afford the kit or personnel that they can. Just take a look at how many Tanks, APC’s, Combat Jets, Helicopters and personnel they have and how well equipped they are and tell me that the UK is in a better position.

            Proof is in the pudding – if the whole UK defence force went up against the marines we would get mullered. With the extra $40bn pa that we spend over and above their audited budget I am sure they could put out a better Navy and Logistics train (and a similar nuclear fleet).

            You can still be in the Navy or RAF or Army, but it will be part of an integrated Force that works together and spends its money far more efficiently.

            I was in the Army and it matters more to me our people have the best kit than the service they are in.

      • the u.sm.c will always be second fiddle to the army, although the marine corps have the same amount of tanks as the whole u.k arm y approx 400).it would cost far,far too much for the u.k to invest in a similar setup. the rumoured merger of the marines would be a start , but the traditionalists would back it and the beaurocracy would kill it altogether.i’m not adverse to the f.a.a/ r.a.f merging. at least it would stop the main source of inter service rivalry and who gets to play with the f 35’s.

    • The USMC leaches of the other forces and gets everything at a reduced cost. Single force structure is a terrible idea.

  2. All sneering aside the USMC model for the UK armed forces has little merit.

    It will undermine morale and produce little if any economy savings.

    It is important to note that that technically the USMC is part of the US navy and whilst on operations is dependent on the support of the other branches of the US military to enable it operate in a combat environment.

  3. The aspirations and suggestions of Pacman are admirable. I certainly agree with his long term build suggestions, like a drumbeat, to keep orders flowing, people employed, the economy stimulated, and costs down.

    I don’t agree with the USMC ideas as simply I feel the espirit de corps in the British armed forces is too important to interfere with. The MoD also has hundreds of military facilities of all kinds to pay for which the USMC does not.

    I’m all for joint operations but we have been going down that path since the mid 90’s anyway first with PJHQ and now the Joint Forces Command.

    I for one did not think raftastic was arrogant. Blunt maybe but hey we all come across differently.

  4. Well, let’s all unite behind the happy thought I have in my head that by the end of this year we should be seeing pictures much like these with our very own F-35Bs operating from the deck of HMS QE. OK, only test aircraft and not operational deployment obviously but it’ll still be great to see – first F-35B on QE is getting tantalisingly close now.

    I hope the RN/RAF gets nicer weather though, it looks a bit overcast and gloomy where USS Wasp is at the moment.

  5. All,

    I am not proposing a direct copy of the USMC, but they do a lot right (audited budget – loads of kit) and I am sure we can do a very British version of it, but you can’t have it all ways.. We have budget issues, inter force rivalry and many people on here stating we are command top heavy.

    We have 220k people working in MOD (50k civilians), problems with funding, procurement and a seeming inability to put out a large force at any point in time.

    Just saying we need to look at change – instead of salami slicing everything a little bit.

    • The USMC is geered towards 1 role, we are not. Thank god no one will ever take the single force structure seriously in the UK. It would be a disaster.

      • By the time the civil service had employed three consultant companies to assess the rebranding options, produced three white papers and undertaken trials of new uniforms, stationery and corporate logo’s costs were beginning to spiral out of control.
        There was also a huge argument amongst senior military personnel regarding their new ranks, which took the PM’s personal intervention to resolve. This agreed that on rotation every 4 months you had to be either a General, Admiral or Air Vice Marshal.
        Finally, BAE Managers were brought in to try and make savings but the net result was the number of civil servants went up with a corresponding fall in military personnel.
        The Permanent Secretary to the MOD said to the Commons Defence Select Committee that lessons had been learnt but refused to say what they were because this may be in breach of the official secrets act.

  6. For me, the joint force structure is the way to go, but only because of the hugely reduced numbers of equipment and personnel. It’s seems such a waste to duplicate structures that support so little.
    I also like the idea of removing the rivalry in spending and equipment buys. Buy what we need not what an individual force wants, and have it integrated into a compact efficient single force.

  7. I’m not sure we’d get mullered by the USMC…..let them have a crack at heavy airlift….oh no wait they can’t do that……how about naval warfare? oopps nope sorry no dice there either.

    The single force structure works for the USMC, it helps for them that they have always been a single force, where as we are not. So trying to split ours down is going to be tough if not impossible.

    The USMC benefits from the economies of scale in terms of the procurement of their kit so therefore everything they get is cheaper. I’d also question what is included in their budget…..ours may well be a much larger budget but do we include the same things as the USMC?

    For example the USMC doesn’t fund the USA’s Nuclear deterrent, also does their budget include pensions? Are they paid a comparable wage to their UK equivalents?

    I’m not arguing the right and wrong of what should and shouldn’t be included in our much vaunted 2% of GDP, my point is when comparing to the USMC budget are we actually comparing apples with apples? I’d hazard we are not.

    I’m also not saying there can’t be efficiencies gained, and we should always strive to get maximum value for every pound we spend on defence, that being said if we became a single force and each service lost it’s identity I would immediately PVR, and I doubt I’d be alone. I also think you’d struggle to recruit to a single force as the main driver for any recruitment is the identity of that service.

    Anyway I’m not sneering at you as was unhelpfully put by some other idiot further up (even though I had my tongue in cheek moment) Cheers Pacman.

    • Raf I think you are missing my point (which I must apologise for).

      I think we can accomadate everyones concerns here – but the USMC fields more combat capability that the whole of our 3 forces put together by some considerable margin.

      I accept (and highlighted in my first post ) that they leverage the navy, Airforce and other areas – but lets not forget they do this on an audited budget sub $30bn and have a force of circa 185k personnel.

      The MOD supposedly has an annual budget of £48bn (so lets say $60bn) and fields about the same with reserves.

      I dont mind taking flack on this – I think there is much to admire with the USMC and if we are looking to a model that can be operated from the UK mainland – re-inforce NATO’s northern flank, provide a dedicated amphibious capability and operate carrier groups then I think there is merit in taking a look at it.

      We can all keep cap badges etc if thats whats important to you and my key point is they do this on 50% of UK budget – which means they can probably buy the rest of our capability in for the remaining 50%, at which point they have a better force.

      We need to modernise and change – Cyber is a key factor in all of this as well.

      As for buying stuff cheap – well without the USMC purchasing 400+ F35b – do you think this version would even be available to the UK?

      Its my point of view (shared by the IDF, USMC, ADF and others) and I am happy to stick with it, money is getting tighter and we can’t stick to legacy organisations just because its always been like that.

      • Others have made the apples and oranges point re USMC but in short the USMC has no Navy; i.e. no nuclear deterrent, no submarines or escorts, no RFA and no amphibious ships that they pay for. They also have a significantly curtailed Air Force capability beyond the “fighty stuff” and there are significant questions over the “fightiness” of that stuff too.

        For example many of those marine aircraft aren’t currently flyable per this 2016 article https://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/04/15/budget-cuts-leaving-marine-corps-aircraft-grounded.html . The following article from today in addition to confirming the continuing readiness issue on many airframes also demonstrates how the USMC can financially benefit significantly from the other services http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/19040/navy-to-slash-legacy-f-a-18-hornet-fleet-to-prop-up-beleaguered-usmc-squadrons

        • As noted in the article the Hornets you mention were deliberately kept beyond their planned service dated due to the F-35 program delays. The USMC did NOT join the Super Hornet program so the F-18s the youngest they possess are older than the Clinton Administration.
          The reasons for this are the Marines love the Harrier which is why they bought so much of the old UK inventory for spare parts. The Marines therefore see the F-35B as a natural evolution and replacement of both aircraft so were willing to wait on the replacements to arrive.
          As for the Marines financially benefiting from other services. That’s because the Marines have a history of always running equipment into the ground and buying surplus off allies or other services for a song if they think they can get a few years out of it.

  8. Total reform of the UK MOD is required which will upset a lot of vested interests.

    The most efficient organisations have flat management structures with resources focused on the priorities of the organisation.

    The UK MOD fails to prioritize has a huge pyramid of structure and wastes money as routine.

    The military needs to become much efficient it what it does.

  9. Just remind me again, how many 1 billion pounds a pop nuclear powered Astute type attack submarines does the USMC have? Stop comparing apples with oranges, they are entirely different kinds of fruit capability.

  10. A single force is the only way forward. I have seen while in the Army officers laughing at the sacking of Admirals, the RAF refusing to feed a nuclear armed guard in Germany because the cook house was closed. and four of my mates burnt badly having to fly to UK because the hospital at Cyprus was RAF. Sack every officer over the rank of one star give the rest a month to think about staying or going. Then create the new force, by the way the Canadian idea was ruined from within.

    • Absolutely, there are jobsworths in any service (but in the Armed Forces sometimes people suffer harm because of them, which we all share your pain for) but the number of jobsworths will not be reduced by amalgamating ….. deep understanding and highly refined skills as a Commander in one’s own arm of the services WILL be lost by an ultimate expectation that a squadron of fighter aircraft can be commanded by someone whose background is armoured infantry. One force, one command? It will always fail in my opinion. There were Doctors and there were Nurses ….. and then they put in ‘Operational Mangers’ who knew nothing of how to do either!

      • Please do not share my pain. Doctors,nurses,cleaners,porters,and grondaughter all in one team that does a pretty good job of working. It can be done we just need the will.

  11. Sorry John, but they are not one team, everyone of those roles have their own management structure right up to board level at every Hospital. They work collaboratively but Nuses lead nurses, Doctors lead Doctors and they don’t swap those management roles. Neither should the Armed forces in my view.

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