The Marine Corps aviation community is keeping busy preparing to send its first F-35B Joint Strike Fighters to Japan in January 2017, ensuring the training and logistics pipelines are ready for global deployment of the new plane, the deputy commandant for aviation told USNI News.
The first F-35B squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, reached initial operational capability (IOC) in July and could, in an emergency, deploy overseas today.
“if a contingency arose, and I’ve got an IOC squadron, I could put six or more F-35Bs on the [USS] Wasp and sail into harm’s way and do the job and basically do what our nation needs to do with a fifth-generation aircraft from a seabase, the first one ever,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis told USNI News in an interview.
VMFA-121 is the lone F-35B squadron for now, though the Marines intend to transition Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211, an AV-8B squadron, this fiscal year and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, an F-18 Hornet squadron, in 2018.
As the F-35B fleet builds out, Davis said the Marines have to ensure sufficient readiness for all the squadrons. He said he needs to “make sure as we build up 211 we don’t degrade the capability of 121 from the maintenance perspective, make sure we keep our training solid. Right now we’re in good shape, we have a good plan to build out 211.”
“Keeping the procurement ramp solid is imperative to do that,” he said, and the procurement of spare parts may be the most important and most under-emphasized.