The USS Wasp and its strike group steamed away from Okinawa Monday, heading out for its first regional patrol since arriving in Japan earlier this year.
The amphibious assault ship recently completed a “ready-for-sea assessment,” during which F-35B Lightning IIs landed aboard the vessel for the first time. Some have dubbed the Wasp a miniature aircraft carrier because of upgrades that allow it to host the next-generation stealth fighter.
More than 2,300 members of the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are embarked with the strike group, which includes the 844-foot flattop Wasp, the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey, the dock-landing ship USS Ashland and the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay.
The short-takeoff, vertical-landing capable F-35Bs come from Fighter Attack Squadron 121 out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
The fighter “is a great addition to the team,” Col. Tye Wallace, commander of the Marines embarked with the strike group, said in a Marine Corps statement. “It’s a flexible aircraft, which will greatly enhance our capabilities … to execute missions across the spectrum.”
During the patrol, sailors and Marines — who are trained to conduct amphibious assaults, seize airfields, reinforce embassies, evacuate civilians and respond to disasters — will learn to work together, the statement said.
The Wasp serves under Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force, headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa. It arrived at Sasebo Jan. 14 to replace the USS Bonhomme Richard after a 28,400-mile journey from Norfolk, Va. It was delayed after being diverted to the Caribbean to assist in disaster-relief efforts after two major hurricanes devastated the islands.
The Bonhomme Richard, which has been homeported at Sasebo since April 2012, will remain there for an undetermined period before heading to its new home in San Diego, where it will undergo maintenance and upgrades.
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