A detachment of F-35Bs, the U.S. Marine Corps’ short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, deployed for the first time this week aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Wasp currently operationally deployed in the Indo-Pacific region.
“VFMFA-121 [Fighter Attack Squadron 121], assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept,” the service said in a March 5 statement.
“VMFA-121 pilots are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. Following qualifications, the F-35B’s and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group [ESG] for follow-on operations in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept.”
The Up-Gunned ESG concept is meant to boost the combat power of amphibious ready groups.
The USS Wasp, commissioned in 1989, has a crew of over 1,000 officers and sailors and can embark around 2,200 Marines, as well as smaller amphibious assault crafts, and around 31 aircraft, including F-35Bs, AV-8B Harrier IIs, MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters, AH-1Z Viper helicopters, and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
The retrofitted amphibious assault ship, which departed Sasebo Naval Base in Japan on March 3 for its first operational deployment since arriving in the Indo-Pacific region in January, features an upgraded flight deck to operate the F-35B. In total, the USS Wasp can accommodate up to six F-35Bs.
“The arrival of the F-35B culminates testing and shipboard structural modifications on Wasp that began in 2013,” the service notes. “Wasp completed an overhaul in 2017 and subsequently departed Norfolk to forward-deploy to Sasebo, Japan, as part of a Department of Defense effort to place the most advanced capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.”
Upgrades to the USS Wasp also included the installation of a new combat system and upgrades to the MK 2 Ship Self Defense System, SPQ-9B horizon search radar, and MK 57 NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System.
“Pairing F-35B Lightning II’s with the Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime,” said Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, the commanding officer of USS Wasp strike group. “This 5th generation stealth jet is extremely versatile and will greatly enhance and expand our operational capabilities.”