This story has been updated to clarify the number of F-35Bs operating on USS America (LHA-6).
More than two dozen Navy and Marine F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters are currently operating aboard U.S. Navy ships in the Indo-Pacific, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.
Ten Navy F-35Cs with the “Argonauts” of VFA-147 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) from Naval Air Station Lemoore are embarked aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), while 10 Marine Corps F-35Cs from the “Black Knights” of U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., are aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), a Navy spokesman told USNI News.
Meanwhile, six Marine F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant aircraft are operating aboard USS America (LHA-6), a Marine Corps spokesman confirmed to USNI News. This makes the total number of naval F-35s operating in the region 26.
The three air units represent the largest assembly of deployed U.S. naval F-35s to date. Last year, the U.S. and U.K. deployed 18 F-35Bs aboard Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R06).
The two aircraft carriers and big-deck amphibious ship were operating in the Philippine Sea as of Tuesday, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.
The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group recently finished drilled with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group in the South China Sea, according to a U.S. 7th Fleet news release.
The massing of fifth-generation American fighter jets in the region comes as the Navy begins deploying its new blended carrier air wing. The Carl Vinson CSG with Carrier Air Wing 2 embarked features the first F-35Cs and CMV-22B Ospreys to deploy together aboard an aircraft carrier.
The Marine Corps squadron’s deployment on Abraham Lincoln is the first Marine F-35C squadron to deploy on a carrier, USNI News previously reported.
Asked recently how he feels about Marine F-35s on carriers, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said “I’m all for it.”
“We are doing it now. And not only are we doing it now, but we’ve deployed the F-35Bs on the Izumo, which is the Japanese converted destroyer version of their aircraft carrier. And did it very very successfully. And so, this is the way of the future,” Del Toro told the Navy Memorial SITREP speaker series on Tuesday, referring to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s JS Izumo (DDH183).
“Again, it speaks to that sort of combined navy with all of our allies and partners fielding similar platforms with similar capabilities that we can truly integrate into one expeditionary strike group or amphibious readiness group,” Del Toro added.
Lawmakers on the House Armed Services seapower and project forces subcommittee recently cited the potential for China to invade Taiwan within the next five years in making the case for a larger naval fleet with consistent presence in the Indo-Pacific.
“If the new [National Defense Strategy] walks away from the 2018 NDS’s useful concept of deterrence by denial in favor of integrated deterrence …. I think it will reduce our ability to deny a fait accompli over Taiwan and therefore make one more likely, either through preemptive surrender or battlefield defeat,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a former Marine, said last week at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.
“The goods new is that we can prevent this from happening. It’s within our power to actually get our act together by abandoning vacuous buzzwords and just doing the hard work of building a battle force that is ready by 2025, not 2045.”