Marine Corps Shuffling F-35B Squadron Transition Order
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps has pulled an AV-8B Harrier II attack squadron from its spot in the F-35B transition schedule and replaced it with an F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack squadron because of the better health of the Harrier force.
Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMA-311), based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., was next in line to make the transition in 2018, following the transitions of Marine Fighter-Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) and VMFA-211.
During a Feb. 8 roundtable with reporters at the Pentagon, Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said VMFA-122, a Hornet unit based at MCAS Beaufort, S.C., will take VMA-311’s transition slot and, upon completion of F-35B transition, will change its home base from Beaufort to Yuma.
He said the Independent Readiness Review of the Harrier fleet showed a more robust posture than anticipated. The Harrier force has seen a 23 percent increase in ready base aircraft, the service’s metric for aircraft ready to fly. The Harrier force is scheduled to serve until 2026.
Davis said he would prefer an F-35B procurement rate of 37 aircraft per year, compared with the approximately 20 per year scheduled for fiscal 2018 through 2021. He said that would enable the Corps to accelerate squadron transitions and retire both its F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B fleets by 2026.
Davis also said that the fourth operational F-35B squadron will be VMFA-225, to be redesignated from VMFA(AW)-225, based at MCAS Miramar, Calif. — the AW designation stands for All-Weather. Another Miramar-based squadron, VMFA-314, will be the first Marine squadron to make the transition to the carrier-based F-35C.
The Marine Corps currently has about 50 F-35Bs in inventory, including training and test aircraft. Last month, the Corps moved VMFA-121 to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, where it formed part of Marine Aircraft Group 12. VMFA-121 will deploy a detachment onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp beginning in 2018, the same year that VMA-211 will deploy a detachment on board the amphibious assault ship USS America.