The United States Marine Corps Friday declared that a group of 10 F-35B fighter jets has achieved initial operational capability (IOC). The announcement means that F-35B -- one of three designs of the multi-role fighter -- is now ready to be deployed in active combat worldwide.
The F-35B Lightning II, developed by Lockheed Martin, is a fifth-generation fighter jet, similar to the F-22. The F-35B model is equipped with short takeoff and vertical landing system. The Marines are expected to buy a total of 420 jets -- 340 B and 80 C models, Defense News reported.
“I am pleased to announce that VMFA-121 has achieved initial operational capability in the F-35B, as defined by requirements outlined in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees,” Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a statement.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, or VMFA-121, based in Yuma, Arizona, is the first squadron in military history to become operational with an F-35 variant, according to the Pentagon. With the first F-35B deployment scheduled to take place in 2017, the unit will be moved permanently to Iwakuni, Japan, Defense News reported.
VMFA-121 has 10 F-35B aircraft that are “capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a Marine air-ground task force, or in support of the joint force,” Dunford said.
According to the Pentagon, the F-35B will eventually replace three legacy aircraft -- the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler. The Marine Corps has also trained more than 50 Marine F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel for the jet.
The authorities “focused on delivering a stealth fighter that could fly faster than the speed of sound, carry its weapons internally, conduct short take offs and vertical landings, and be deployed from amphibious ships and austere bases. It took an entire team effort to deliver the combat capability of the F-35B, and today we've done it,” the U.S. Marine Corps said in a statement.