WASHINGTON — A Marine Corps F-35B squadron has transferred from the United States to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, marking the first permanent international deployment of the joint strike fighter, the service announced Tuesday.
Marine Corps spokesman Capt Kurt Stahl told Defense News that 10 F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) departed Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona on Monday, with the first jets slated to arrive in Japan on Wednesday. All 10 F-35s will arrive at Iwakuni by Thursday. Eventually, an additional six jets will be relocated from Yuma to Iwakuni, bringing the squadron up to a full 16 aircraft.
VMFA-121 is a part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"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," the service said in a statement.
The Marine Corps’ short takeoff vertical landing version of the F-35 is the first variant of the aircraft to be permanently stationed outside of the United States. VMFA-121 became the US 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 their normal training cycle," the Marine Corps said.
One such demonstration was Exercise Steel Knight in December 2015, a live-fire exercise that combined ground and air operations. The F-35B also took part in a proof-of-concept demo aboard amphibious assault ship America last October, where pilots tested the jet’s ability to operate in harsh at-sea conditions with a range of weapons.
The Air Force will become the next US service to internationally deploy the joint strike fighter, but is opting to locate its first squadron in Europe rather than in the Asia-Pacific. The F-35A will be permanently based at Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath in England as early as 2020.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.