The US Marine Corps said it is capable of deploying their F-35’s to the Middle East, if necessary. The F-35B variant was declared combat-ready by the Marines in July and set for deployment to Japan in 2017. However, as tensions rise over Islamic State terrorist activity in the Middle East, deployment plans could change.
Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said:
“If a contingency arose, and I’ve got an IOC squadron, I could put six or more F-35Bs on the USS Wasp and sail into harm’s way and do the job and basically do what our nation needs to do with a fifth-generation aircraft from a seabase, the first one ever.”
The aircraft’s B variant was declared operational in July by General Joe Dunford, US Marine Corps commandant.
“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, 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.
The UK recently signed up for a further six F-35B Lightning aircraft, in addition to the four already contracted last year. The UK is expected to order 48 as part of a first batch.
The six new F-35Bs form part of the Lot 9 production contract. The UK had ordered its first four operational aircraft as part of the Lot 8 production contract announced in November last year. Industry expects the UK will acquire around 90 of the type.