YUMA, Ariz., 31 July 2015. U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft reached initial operational capability today with a squadron of 10 F-35B stealth multirole military fighter jets ready for worldwide deployment.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, is the first squadron in military history to become operational with an F-35 variant, following a five-day Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI), which concluded 17 July 2015.
“VMFA-121 has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in the F-35B, as defined by requirements outlined in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees,” affirms Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps. “VMFA-121 has 10 aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship. It is 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 is confident in the F-35B’s ability to support Marines in combat, predicated on years of concurrent developmental testing and operational flying, he says. “Prior to declaring IOC, we have conducted flight operations for seven weeks at sea aboard an L-Class carrier, participated in multiple large force exercises, and executed a recent operational evaluation which included multiple live ordnance sorties. The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our Nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win.”
The F-35 will eventually replace three legacy platforms: the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, and EA-6B Prowler.
The U.S. Marine Corps has trained and qualified more than 50 Marine F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel to assume autonomous, organic-level maintenance support for the F-35B.
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 conduct its transition.
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, says:
"The performance of the VMFA-121 during the ORI in all evaluated maintenance, flight operations, and exams was exceptional. The squadron's aircraft performed well in all five IOC operational scenarios: Close Air Support, Air Interdiction, Armed Reconnaissance, Offensive Counter Air and Defensive Counter Air. This included live ordnance deliveries. The demonstrated capability of the squadron in the ORI, and in their run up to it, have given me the confidence that they meet our IOC criteria and, if required, could respond to a contingency, giving our nation its first sea-based 5th generation strike fighter capability. As such, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has decided to declare VMFA-121 initial operationally capable.
"The performance of VMFA-121, and the entire F-35B team, has reinforced my feeling that we not only have great Marines in this program, but that we are giving them the right aircraft. As we field the F-35, we must remain vigilant in the forging of a sustainment system which supports readiness rates required to train for and conduct sustained combat operations.
If I have any concern at this point, it is that the spare parts available to extract maximum value from this exceptional warfighting asset will be shy of what we will truly need. In our legacy fleet, we resource our sustainment accounts in order to achieve between 70 and 75% readiness. I think we have that wrong, and I want to see if we can do better with this new platform.
The F-35B has so much potential. Per the Commandant's guidance, I've asked my staff to see why we can't resource this jet to achieve a significantly higher readiness rate."