China’s Air Patrols now have to Contend with US Marines F-35B Squadron based in Japan
All of the first 10 Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighters belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) are now at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan today (Jan. 12), marking the first permanent international deployment of the U.S. stealth fighter.
The F-35Bs departed their former base at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona on Jan. 9 with the first fighters arriving at Iwakuni on Jan. 11. The remaining six stealth jets will be delivered in June by the USS Wasp (LHD-1), a Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious assault ship of the U.S. Navy.
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"The transition of VMFA-121 from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni marks a significant milestone in the F-35B program as the Marine Corps continues to lead the way in the advancement of stealth fighter attack aircraft," said the United States Marine Corps in a statement.
VMFA 121, also known as the "Green Knights," flies the Marine Corps version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the F-35B. This variant is a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) jet that will replace current inventories of both the F/A-18 Hornet and the AV-8B Harrier II in the fighter and attack roles.
VMFA-121 will be the first F-35 squadron permanently based in Japan. Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo, commanding officer of VMFA-121, said Marines with the squadron are both excited and honored to be part of this move.
The squadron was based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW).
On Nov. 20, 2015, VMFA-121 accepted delivery of the first three F-35B jets, becoming the first operational F-35B squadron in the Marine Corps Operating Forces and the first operational F-35 squadron in any service.
The deployment of VMFA-121 to Japan is part of Washington's rebalancing strategy to increase the U.S. Navy's presence in the Pacific. Once in Japan, the USS Wasp will be part of the United States Seventh Fleet Forward Deployed Naval Forces.
VMFA-121 became the U.S. military's first operational F-35 squadron in July 2015. Since then, the squadron has continued to fly sorties and employ ordnance as part of its normal training cycle.
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has ramped-up the frequency of its long-range patrols that regularly pass close to Japan's airspace and has promised to send far larger formations in the future.
The possibility remains high these future patrols will be shadowed by the Marine F-35Bs from Iwakuni, but the PLAAF won't know it because aerial radars on their Xian-H-6 bombers and Shenyang J-11 multi-role fighters can't detect the Marine stealth jets.