The US Marine Corps has achieved initial operational capability (IOC) for the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II, with a squadron of 10 F-35B aircraft considered ready for worldwide deployment.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) based in Yuma, Arizona, is now therefore the first operational F-35 squadron, following a five-day operational readiness inspection that concluded on July 17.
“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,” said General Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, on July 31.
“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.”
F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin has welcomed the achievement of IOC.
“Congratulations to the US Marine Corps on achieving initial operating capability with the F-35B Lightning II, a milestone achieved through dedication and perseverance: touchstones of the Marine Corps,” the company said in a statement. “With the F-35B, the Marine Corps has a fighter that combines next-generation radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history to provide unprecedented lethality and survivability.”