VMFA-121 to Japan
Report and photos by Steven Valinski
January 10, 2017
On January 9, 2017, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 “Green Knights” departed MCAS Yuma, Arizona and headed to their new home, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
VMFA-121 flies the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35B is the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 JSF. Capable of landing conventionally or vertically, the F-35B can be utilized from a land or sea base.
Bolstering the USMC’s worldwide deployment capability, moving VMFA-121 to Japan makes VMFA-121 the first active F-35 squadron in any U.S. DoD department to be based outside the United States.
The USMC, and VMFA-121 specifically, have paved the way within the F-35 program with many “firsts” for the aircraft.
- In July 2015, VMFA-121 became the first DoD unit, and first worldwide, to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the F-35B.
- VMFA-121 has been very active within the USMC Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course over the past few years.
- In December 2015, Exercise Steel Knight 2016 featured the deployment of eight F-35Bs, 14 pilots and 162 maintainers from VMFA-121 to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms (MCAGCC) to help prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a MAGTF.
- VMFA-121 was the first F-35 unit to participate in Exercise Red Flag with their participation in Red Flag 16-3, in the summer of 2016.
In addition, VMFA-121 is scheduled to participate in Exercise Northern Edge 2017 in April/May this year.
With VMFA-121 moving to Japan, the USMC adds fifth-generation fighter capability to the Pacific region. VMFA-121 is expected to have a detachment shipboard on the USS Wasp in early 2018. This will add the flexibility of a sea base to the MAGTF while supporting the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
The move to Japan marks another significant milestone for VMFA-121 and the F-35B.