A detachment of F-35B Lightning IIs from VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’ embarked the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) on March 5, marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Indo-Pacific.
The F-35Bs, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will initially conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp.
Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7 and the 31st MEU will then deploy in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol.
The F-35s form the basis for the so-called ‘Up-gunned ESG’ — a US Pacific-fleet concept that aims to provide lethality and survivability to a traditional three-ship amphibious ready group by integrating multi-mission surface combatants and F-35B into amphibious operations.
The 31st MEU is the only forward-deployed MEU in the region. The Wasp completed an overhaul in 2017 and subsequently departed Norfolk to forward-deploy to Sasebo, Japan, as part of a Department of Defense effort to place the most advanced capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.