The Marine Corps’ F-35B joint strike fighters will deploy on a ship with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, marking the first time the fifth-generation fighters are deploying with a stateside unit, Marine officials announced Tuesday.
The F-35Bs are coming from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA 211 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
The 13th MEU is gearing up for a six-month intensive training workup before deployment aboard three different amphibious ships, and to announce the occasion, the expeditionary unit posted a video to its official social media pages to welcome the various units that comprise the MEU.
“Today the 13th MEU makes history,” said Col. Chandler Nelms, the 13th MEU commanding officer, in the welcome video. “Welcome to the fighting 13th and get ready for a wild ride.”
The deployment of the F35B, which can take off and land vertically on an amphibious assault ship, is 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 F-35B will be stationed on the USS Essex (LHD-2), a Wasp-class amphibious ship.
Marine Expeditionary Units deploy all over the globe for humanitarian disasters, maritime incidents and potential combat operations. Several thousand Marines take part in months of intensive training that includes scenarios from beach landings, major combat operations, to maritime interdictions and vessel searches.
The F-35 has faced numerous hurdles and comes with a hefty price tag, causing some to criticize the necessity of the fifth-generation fighter. The aircraft’s deployment with the MEU will be a step forward for an aircraft that has faced extensive delays.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.