The Corps’ F-35Bs may finally get their first taste of combat in 2018.

The F35-B, which can take off and land vertically on an amphibious assault ship, is expected to deploy with two Marine expeditionary units to the Pacific and Central Command theaters in the spring and summer, officials said.

The first deployment will be with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp and the second will be with the 13th MEU aboard the amphibious assault ship Essex, said spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns.

It’s a key step in the Corps’ long-term plan to replace its current fleet of tactical aircraft — the F/A-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers and AV-8B Harriers — with the new fifth-generation fighters by 2032.

The Marine Corps plans to buy a total of 353 F-35Bs, and 67 F-35Cs, which have tail hooks that allow them to land on aircraft carriers.

This past year, the Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the service’s first overseas-deployed F-35B squadron, arrived in Iwakuni, Japan, and conducted a range of training exercises.

Marine aviation officials have said that up to half of the current F/A-18 Hornet fleet is not ready for combat, and the deployment of the F-35Bs are key to restoring readiness to the tactical air fleet.

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