Six Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters landed on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) on Monday to begin the first shipboard phase of operational testing.
Over the next two weeks, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 out of Beaufort, S.C., and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 out of Yuma, Ariz., will perform a variety of missions for Marine Corps test and evaluation officials: day and nigh flight operations, day and night weapons loading, and maintenance, logistics and sustainment at sea. Testers will also assess digital interoperability of aircraft and ship systems, F-35B landing signal officer’s launch and recovery software and modifications made to Wasp for JSF operations.
The Marine Corps variant of the JSF will reach the fleet first, with the service planning to declare initial operational capability in July.
“The F-35 Lightning II is the most versatile, agile and technologically-advanced aircraft in the skies today, enabling our Corps to be the nation’s force in readiness, regardless of the threat, and regardless of the location of the battle,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the deputy commandant for Marine Corps aviation, said in a statement.
“As we modernize our fixed-wing aviation assets for the future, the continued development and fielding of the short take-off and vertical landing, the F-35B remains the centerpiece of this effort.”
The Marine Corps requested nine F-35Bs in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request and included another six in its unfunded requirements list to Congress. Congressional committees are still working through the defense authorization and appropriations bills but so far seem supportive of accelerating delivery of the JSFs to the Marine Corps, given that it should be operational by the time FY 2016 begins.