VMFA-121 Departs for Relocation to Japan
IWAKUNI, Japan — Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., Jan. 9 to transfer to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, the first location to receive the Marine Corps’ F-35B, as part of its worldwide deployment capability, according to a report from the service.
In November 2012, the Marine Corps announced that after a century of Marine Corps aviation, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing would introduce its first F-35B Lightning II squadron. The F-35B was developed to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler. The short-takeoff, vertical-landing aircraft is a true force multiplier.
On Nov. 20, 2012 VMFA-121, formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, was redesignated as the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron, VMFA-121. The commandant of the Marine Corps publicly declared VMFA-121 initial operating capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, following a five-day operational readiness inspection. Since IOC, the squadron has continued to fly sorties and employ ordnance as part of their normal training cycle.
In December 2015, VMFA-121 employed its F-35Bs in support of Exercise Steel Knight. The exercise is a combined-arms live-fire exercise which integrates capabilities of air and ground combat elements to complete a wide range of military operations in an austere environment to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The F-35B preformed exceedingly well during the exercise.
In October, a contingent of Marine Corps F-35B’s, pilots and maintainers participated in Developmental Test III and the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration aboard USS America. The final test period ensured the plane could operate in the most extreme at-sea conditions, with a range of weapons loadouts and with the newest software variant. Data and lessons learned laid the groundwork for developing the concepts of operations for F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers, the first two of which will take place in 2018.
The transition of VMFA-121 from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni marks a significant milestone in the F-35B program as the Marine Corps continues to lead the way in the advancement of stealth fighter attack aircraft.