The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has set off on its first worldwide deployment with the transfer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
VMFA-121 F-35Bs departed Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona on January 9 for the transit to East Asia. Iwakuni becomes the first location outside the CONUS to receive a permanent deployment of US military F-35s.
The ‘Green Knights’ became the first operational F-35 squadron on November 20, 2012. Assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, VMFA-121 was formerly an F/A-18 Hornet squadron. The unit declared initial operating capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, following a five-day operational readiness inspection (ORI).
The preparation for the move to Japan included participation in Exercise ‘Steel Knight’ in December 2015. This is a combined-arms live-fire exercise that brings together air and ground combat elements in an austere environment. According to the Marines, ‘The F-35B preformed exceedingly well during the exercise.’
Last October 2016, Marine Corps F-35Bs were involved in Developmental Test III and the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration aboard amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). The final test period saw the F-35B tested in extreme at-sea conditions, with different weapons load-outs and the latest software installed. F-35B deployments aboard US Navy amphibious vessels will begin in 2018.