As the Air Force prepares to permanently move F-35A Lightning II squadrons to Europe, the Marine Corps is continuing its plan to base use its keep its fleet of F-35B's in Japan and the continental U.S.nited States and Japan

The Corps won't follow the Air Force as it sends two of its fifth-generation stealth fighter squadrons to a Royal Air Force base in Lakenheath, England — the first of which units will arrive there in 2020. Instead, the service is continuing its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, where tens of thousands of Marines are now based or forward deployed.

The reason? The Corps' new short take-off, vertical landing attack plane is good at playing in the dirt. It can operate from ships, any type of airfield, abandoned or primitive runways, highways, and other open areas.

"The F-35B will have an unmatched expeditionary capability, and the Marine Corps intends to capitalize on that," said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Paul Greenberg, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon said. "The aircraft can even operate from unimproved surfaces where we utilize our own expeditionary runway matting." Greenberg said.

According to tentative plans, in 2017, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the "Green Knights," will permanently relocate from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Sixteen One squadron of 16 aircraft will be located there, according to the Marine Corps' aviation plans show.

"As the Marine Corps supports the president's strategy to rebalance forces in the Pacific, we will bring the most advanced fifth-generation technology and capabilities of our force to that region," Greenberg said.

Marine F-35 squadrons will also routinely deploy to Japan on six month rotations as part of the service's unit deployment program. The squadrons that could be tapped for those deployments will be spread between the active-duty force and the reserve. They'll be based in the following locations: The Corps' remaining F-35s will be located at six different locations and spread between active duty and reserve squadrons. Besides Iwakuni, the Corps will put aircraft at the following locations:

  • 94 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
  • 60 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.
  • 70 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona.
  • 10 aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (The Navy will also use these aircraft.)
  • 70 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, South Carolina.

The Corps is expected to have three F-35 squadrons by the time the Green Knights move to Japan, the plan shows. By then, another will be at Yuma while a training squadron will be at Beaufort. The East Coast will receive its first operational squadron in 2019 at Beaufort, while Miramar will receive its first squadron in 2023.

The Corps has some of its newest aircraft in Japan. A squadron of KC-130J Super Hercules is based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. The new aircraft has air-to-air and ground vehicle refueling capabilities and can carry 92 troops or 64 paratroopers and their equipment. It can also carry 74 litters and medical personnel.

Japan also has two U.S. Marine MV-22 Osprey squadrons. Top brass there said the tilt-rotor aircraft's long range and speed allow Marines to quickly reach far-off locations, and has revolutionized aviation in the region.

Like the Corps, the Navy has also tried to put its most advanced aircraft in the Pacific. In 2012, EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack Squadron 141, the "Shadowhawks," arrived at Naval Air Facility, Atsugi, Japan, to join Carrier Air Wing 5. It was the first air wing in the fleet to exclusively fly F/A-18 Super Hornets and Growlers, the service's new electronic warfare aircraft, and no legacy aircraft.