Marine Corps F-35Bs Head to Sea Ahead of July 1 IOC

Defense Daily // May 20, 2015

The Marine Corps is less than two months from declaring the F-35B ready for combat, but the long awaited fifth-generation aircraft will not be rushed into battle as quickly as the service usually deploys new weapons, according to a top Marine aviator.

“The F-35, I would say, if I had my druthers, I would not deploy right away because I would like to build some momentum in the program and build the instructor base,” Lt. Gen Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, told reporters during a May 19 breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Marines are known for embracing new weapons and platforms and spiriting them to combat zones where they can be tested and Marines can learn their utility through operation assessment. For instance, the Marine Corps declared V-22 Osprey initial operational capability (IOC) in 2007 and almost immediately deployed it to Iraq, which was a controversial decision given the Osprey’s lackluster operational readiness rate and questionable safety record.

Davis said because of the thousands of test flight hours already flown on the F-35 and the deliberateness with which the service is approaching IOC has put the F-35 in better stead on the eve of its official entry to service.

“The airplane can deploy straight away if we need it to. And it could have a very great capability out there against ISIS targets.”

The Marine Corps' short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B performs a vertical landing.

Rather than press for sending the aircraft into combat, Davis said the focus is on equipping and deploying Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) to Iwakuni, Japan in January 2017.

“If in the interim we need them for something else, we can use those airplanes,” he said.

Off the U.S. East Coast the same day, a half dozen F-35Bs landed aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) amphibious assault ship where they will undergo two weeks of operational testing (OT) in anticipation of declaring IOC on July 1. Elements of VMFA-121, which will be the first operational F-35 squadron, are performing the OT-1 testing aboard the Wasp.

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