The F-35B is “ready to go right now” if needed to fly combat missions, the head of US Marine Aviation has said.
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said:
“There were a lot of people out here that said, ‘Hey, the Marines are just going to declare IOC [initial operational capability] because it would be politically untenable not to do that. IOC in the Marine Corps means we will deploy that airplane in combat.
If we think we need to do that, we will. We’re ready to do that.”
The US Marine Corps plans to disperse its F-35Bs among forward deployed bases to enhance survivability while remaining close to a battlespace, similar to RAF Harrier deployment late in the Cold War which relied on the use of off-base locations that offered short runways, shelter, and concealment.
Known as distributed STOVL operations (DSO), Marine F-35Bs would sustain operations from temporary bases in allied territory within the range of hostile ballistic and cruise missiles, but be moved between temporary locations inside the enemy’s 24-48 hour targeting cycle.
This comes after over a decade of development, the first squadron of F-35B’s is officially operational.
“I am pleased to announce that VMFA-121 (Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121) has achieved initial operational capability in the F-35B, as defined by requirements outlined in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees. VMFA-121 has ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship. It is capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or in support of the Joint Force.”
In declaring it operational, Gen. Joe Dunford described the advanced plane as “capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance.”
He added that “we still have work ahead to deliver the full warfighting capability required by all three services and our partners”. The US Marine Corps calls the F-35 the “future of tactical aviation,” expecting it to eventually replace three legacy platforms currently in use: the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler.
The United States Marine Corps has trained and qualified more than 50 F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel to support for the F-35B.
VMFA-121’s transition will be followed by Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), an AV-8B squadron, which is scheduled to transition to the F-35B in 2016. In 2018, VMA-311 will conduct its transition to the F-35B.