MELBOURNE, Australia — A second U.S. Marine Corps squadron in Japan has declared its F-35B fighters are ready for operations, less than a year after officially kicking off the process of transitioning to the stealthy fifth-generation aircraft.
The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing announced Thursday that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 attained initial operational capability with the Lockheed Martin-made jet, 10 months after transitioning away from the Boeing-made F/A-18D Hornet.
Maj. Douglas Kansier, operations officer of VMFA-242, said attaining IOC means the squadron is now “taskable and combat capable on a limited basis” while it works toward becoming fully combat capable.
The latter will see the squadron train pilots and maintainers so it can fulfill a broader mission set. Under the 2019 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, the squadron is slated to receive a full complement of 16 F-35Bs by fiscal 2023.
The squadron, which is nicknamed the Bats, is based at Marine Combat Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, located at the southern end of the main Japanese island of Honshu near the city of Hiroshima.
In addition to the two F-35B squadrons, Iwakuni is home to a squadron of Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules tanker-transport aircraft along with several U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force flying squadrons.
VMFA-242 joins the other Iwakuni-based Marine Corps F-35B squadron as the only one of its kind based in the Western Pacific region. The other squadron, the Green Knights of VMFA-121, deployed to Japan in early 2017, less than two years after it became the first squadron to declare IOC with the aircraft in July 2015.
The Green Knights have since been heavily engaged throughout the Indo-Pacific region, interacting with allies and partners as well as using the F-35Bs in expeditionary air base operations, or EABO.
The latest such exercise saw the squadron undertake networked EABO training with Marine Corps elements supported by Navy and Air Force elements scattered on islands and in the waters of the Western Pacific between Okinawa and Hawaii, demonstrating what the Corps said was the capability to integrate with the joint force to seize and defend key maritime terrain, provide low-signature sustainment and execute long-range precision fires in support of naval operations from expeditionary advanced bases.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.