EAST CHINA SEA --- Marines and aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) flexed their muscle Oct. 23, completing a three aircraft aerial refueling mission above the East China Sea.
Three F-35B Lightning II stealth attack jets, the Marine Corps’ newest and most versatile fighter, flew from their home station at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to rendezvous with a KC-130J Super Hercules aerial tanker belonging to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152).
VMFA-121, part of the Aviation Combat Element for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, provides a fixed-wing attack capability for the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward-deployed MEU. VMGR-152, the “Sumos,” provides a vital refueling and transport capability for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing across the vast Indo-Pacific region.
“The fifth-generation and stealth capabilities of the F-35B make the aircraft a key enabler for the 31st MEU,” said Lt. Col. Michael D. Wyrsch, 31st MEU detachment commander with VMFA-121. “The F-35B improves the maneuverability and freedom of movement of the 31st MEU and U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Group team throughout the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of responsibility due to the leap in capabilities of both the onboard sensors and the weapons.”
During 2016, the U.S. began a shift of focus from operations in the Middle East to strengthening its posture and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. The F-35B is a key enabler for the Marine Corps’ strategy as part of INDOPACOM, and VMFA-121 is the centerpiece for forward-deployed, amphibious operations of the so-called 5th Generation stealth fighter, said Wyrsch.
“The Marines Corps’ motto of “First to Fight” is why the F-35B is critical in the INDOPACOM AOR,” said Wyrsch. “The lethality, flexibility and responsiveness of having a land and sea-based 5th Generation stealth fighter pre-positioned in this AOR provides the Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander the ability to gain and maintain the offensive advantage.”