A F-35B prototype during flight trials on board LHD-1 USS Wasp (Image © US Navy)

Major milestone: Marines F-35 is operational

In a major milestone for the F-35 program and as expected earlier this week, the first United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B squadron has reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC). The announcement was made on 31 July in Washington. General Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps, took the decision after weeks of intensive training by the Yuma, California, based squadron. An Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) was concluded on 17 July.

The unit in question is Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’. It flies ten F-35B Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variants of Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighter aircraft. IOC for the US Air Force F-35A and US Navy F-35C variants is expected at a later stage. The UK is the only other nation to have ordered the F-35B, with three aircraft flying in the US for testing and training.

Deploy
VFMA-121 is scheduled to deploy to Japan for the first time in 2017, using its new aircraft. IOC also means that the squadron could be deployed anywhere sooner if needed. In total, the USMC now has trained and qualified more than fifty F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel.  The new fighter aircraft replaces the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B and EA6-B types in USMC-service.  VFMA-121 formerly flew the Hornet.

VMFA-121’s transition will be followed by Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), an AV-8B squadron, which is scheduled to transition next to the F-35B in fiscal year 2016. In 2018, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), an F-18 Hornet squadron, will transition.

Today’s announcement comes 14 years after the Lockheed Martin X-35 was chosen over the Boeing X-32 in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition. The program since earned much criticism over delays and budget overruns. In total, 400 billion USD has been spent already in what is without a doubt the biggest weapons program ever.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: An F-35B seen during the tests. (Image © US Navy)