Marine F-35Bs are supporting the 5,000 US troops sailing off on a six-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific, marking the first time the new aircraft will likely see combat.
The Arizona-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 221 (the “Wake Island Avengers”) is currently on assignment with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex, as they embark on week two on their half-year tour.
The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th MEU departed quietly on Tuesday of last week, likely skipping their usual deployment fanfare in favor of operational security.
“The Essex Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit got underway from San Diego, July 10,” Lt. Tim Gorman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, told Military.com. “For reasons of operational security, we are not publicly disclosing any additional details.”
The USMC F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has never been on a full-bore deployment overseas, having only done a short stint aboard the USS Wasp.
The Essex crew is likely getting used to the JSFs, having grown used to the 30+ year presence of the AV-8B Harrier II that has been the Corps’ workhorse longer than most -if any- active duty members.
The F-35 will have big shoes to fill, as the AV-8 has played a critical role in every conflict since Operation Desert Storm. During the 1991 conflict, the Harrier was available for operation 90% of the time, logging about 3,380 flights and about 4,100 flight hours.
The B model of the F-35 is ideal for Marine operations and carries on the tradition of the Harrier with its ability to vertically take off and land. Unlike its predecessor, it has a highly advanced avionics suite, as well as stealth capabilities.
Other components of the MEU include Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 13; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166; and a command element.
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