In 2018 the Marine Corps started knocking out a series of milestones for its F-35 Lightning II fleet.

The Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 out of Yuma, Arizona, conducted its first flight operations; Marines landed their F-35s aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth; and the Corps first used the F-35B in combat.

On Oct. 8, when VMFA-122 started operating more than a dozen F-35Bs aboard the amphibious assault ship America in the eastern Pacific, a new milestone was hit: The testing of the attack heavy lightning carrier concept.

The America is an landing helicopter assault ship, or LHA, designed to carry part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force to combat, putting Marines ashore with either helicopters or V-22 Ospreys.

The lightning carrier replaces some or all of the transport aircraft with the vertical take off F-35B, sacrificing airlift capabilities for “the most lethal, aviation-capable amphibious assault ship to date,” a press release from the Marine Corps said.

“The MAGTF aviation element has more of a strike mindset with 12 or more jets that give the fleet or MAGTF commander the ability to better influence the enemy at range,” Lt. Col. John D. Dirk, commanding officer of VMFA-122, said in a press release.

The concept for the lightning carrier comes from Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger’s planning guidance that said the top Marine sees “potential” in the concept.

This is the first full-scale experiment of the lightning carrier concept and Dirk said he believes “we will continue to see the Marine Corps exercise these capabilities in the future.”

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