USMC Declares Operational Readiness for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
July 31, 2015
Ten Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft have achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC), according to the USMC.
The aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), known as the “Green Knights”, based out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, passed a series of qualifications known as an operational readiness inspection (ORI).
Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a USMC statement: “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.”
With the F-35B reaching IOC, the U.S. has another operational aircraft in its inventory with some unique capabilities.
“The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our Nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win,” Gen. Dunford added.
What this means is, VMFA-121, along with ten F-35B aircraft, are capable of being deployed to support Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) or Joint Forces at any time.
The USMC has been leading the way with the F-35B as a replacement for the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier. The F-35C will also be utilized by the USMC as a replacement for the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 A/B/C/D Hornet. Overall, for the USMC, the F-35 is considered a replacement for the AV-8B, F/A-18 and, partially, the EA-6B.
The next squadron scheduled to become an F-35B unit is Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), known as the “Wake Island Avengers,” who currently fly the AV-8B Harrier.
VMFA-121 is the first DoD unit to reach IOC with any variant of the F-35. Although considered operational, the F-35B has not fully realized the expected capabilities of the aircraft. Future software upgrades will increase the F-35’s capabilities and maximize the aircraft’s ability to manage a variety of sensors and weapons systems. Because of this, the type of missions the F-35B will be part of, if called upon, will be limited to the aircraft’s current capabilities.
With VMFA-121 reaching IOC, the USMC will be moving forward with plans to move the squadron to Japan by 2017.