The Marine Corps finished deploying a squadron of state-of-the-art stealth fighters to Japan Wednesday with the arrival of three F-35B Lighting IIs at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which began flying its F-35Bs to the air station in January, now has a full complement of 16 aircraft.
The squadron — which five years ago became the first in the Marine Corps to receive the high-tech, single-engine, single-seat multirole jets — also became the first forward-deployed F-35 squadron when it moved to Iwakuni from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The fighters bring strategic agility, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy to III Marine Expeditionary Force, a Marine Corps statement said.
The F-35B used by the Marines is a short-takeoff, vertical-landing aircraft meant to replace the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler. The Marines’ version of the jet was recently joined in Japan by the Air Force’s F-35A, which lacks the helicopter-like capabilities of the B variant.
A dozen F-35As from Utah’s 34th Fighter Squadron will work out of Kadena Air Base for six months to help “demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region,” an Air Force said in a statement.
Like with most new platforms, the fighter’s development was plagued with issues, and at one point President Donald Trump indicated he might scrap the program altogether.
This week, Congress approved a $700 billion defense bill that provides money for 90 F-35s. Japan’s Defense Ministry included a $797 million request for six F-35As in this year’s budget.
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