The F-35B completed the first round of ship suitability testing aboard the USS Wasp off the coast of Virginia in October 2011.
Combined, F-35B test aircraft BF-2 and BF-4 accomplished 72 short takeoffs and 72 vertical landings during the three-week testing period.
The F-35B’s maiden deployment is set for late 2017 and its bound for the Western Pacific.
The jet will deploy aboard an amphibious flattop and the US Marine Corps are planning a more powerful escort force to support it, according to Admiral Scott Swift, head of Pacific Fleet, as reported by the Marine Times.
The US Marine Corps has said it is also 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, 2015.
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 cost of the aircraft has also started falling, bringing to an end the slew of criticism about cost. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the head of the F-35 joint program office, had this to say.
“It is a fact this program is over budget from 2001’s baseline. It’s just true. We will never underrun that number. We will never save that money. It’s gone. What matters is since that time, what’s happened to the cost on the program? It’s gone down, not gone up. Judge the program today, not where it’s been, but where it is and where it’s going.”
The aircraft’s B variant was declared operational in July by General Joe Dunford, US Marine Corps commandant.
In declaring it operational, the US Marines described the jet as “capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance.”