MELBOURNE, Australia — The first Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have arrived in Japan, beginning the type’s first permanent overseas basing assignment with the US Marine Corps.
According to the III Marine Expeditionary Force, F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 "Green Knights" arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday.
These are the first of what will eventually be 16 VMFA-121 F-35Bs to be based at Iwakuni, with 10 aircraft scheduled to arrive this month and another six to arrive over the summer. Defense News reported earlier that the F-35Bs had left MCAS Yuma, Arizona, to cross the Pacific on Jan. 9.
"The arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional security of the Pacific," said Maj. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general. "We are bringing the most advanced technology to the Pacific to respond to the wide range of missions we take part in and provide greater support to our regional allies."
Iwakuni is already home to a forward-deployed Marine F/A-18D Hornet squadron and a squadron of KC-130J Hercules tanker-transport aircraft, along with a number of air assets of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
In addition, two more Marine Hornet squadrons are normally on temporary rotations to Iwakuni at any one time under the Unit Deployment Program (UDP). III MEF has yet to respond to a Defense News query on whether the basing of the F-35Bs at Iwakuni will result in any changes to the UDP.
The Green Knights will join in regional joint exercises this year throughout the Pacific Command's area of responsibility, including the biennial exercise Northern Edge in Alaska, Forager Fury in Guam, and Exercises Ssang Yong and Max Thunder in South Korea.
The squadron will also use Exercise Northern Edge as predeployment training for their first operational shipboard deployment with the F-35B, with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the fall of 2017.
The amphibious assault ship Wasp is scheduled to become part of the US 7th Fleet's forward-deployed naval forces in the fall of 2017, when it moves from Norfolk, Virginia, to Sasebo, Japan, according to an earlier release from US Pacific Fleet.
The Wasp, unlike the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which the Wasp will be replacing at Sasebo, has been modernized to conduct operations with the F-35B.