EAST CHINA SEA - A detachment of F-35B Lightning II's with Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) arrived aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) March 5, marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Indo-Pacific.
The F-35B, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st MEU, provides a robust set of sea-based capabilities that enhance Navy-Marine Corps expeditionary operations. The aircraft is equally capable of conducting precision strikes inland, supporting Marines inserted ashore or providing air defense for the Expeditionary Strike Group.
"Pairing F-35B Lightning II's with the Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime," said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7. "This 5th generation stealth jet is extremely versatile, and will greatly enhance and expand our operational capabilities.”
VMFA-121 pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. Following qualifications, the F-35Bs and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp ESG for follow-on operations in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept.
The Up-Gunned ESG is a U.S. Pacific Fleet-initiated concept that aims to provide lethality and survivability to a traditional three-ship amphibious ready group by integrating multi-mission surface combatants and F-35Bs into amphibious operations. By adding these capabilities, the amphibious force can more effectively defend against adversarial threats in the undersea, surface, and air domains, as well provide offensive firepower to strike from the sea.