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U.S. Marines pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 fly new F-35B 's out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma to be delivered to Forward Deployed Naval Forces, Japan on March 26, 2020. The delivery began from MCAS Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni where they will be transferred to the Marine Air Group 12. This action by 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing assures that the newest and most capable jets in the world are forward deployed to support the Marine Air Ground Task Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl John Hall)

Photo by Lance Cpl John Hall

Sharpening the “First to Fight” Force: 3rd MAW Delivers Pristine, Combat-Ready F-35Bs to 1st MAW

20 Apr 2020 | 1st Lt. Fredrick D. Walker 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The U.S. Marine Corps prides itself in its reputation as the “First to Fight” in any clime and place.  While 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is a significant part of America’s force in readiness, it does not fly or fight alone.  In an effort to ensure fellow pilots are trained and equipped with the latest in 5th Generation stealth technology, 3rd MAW’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 and VMFA-211 recently delivered eight F-35B Lightning IIs to 1st MAW’s VMFA-121 in Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. 

VMFA-121 permanently relocated from MCAS Yuma, Arizona, to MCAS Iwakuni in 2017 after becoming the Corps’ first operational F-35B squadron in 2012.  As a forward-deployed squadron in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, it is imperative that the “Green Knights” have access to the most modern aviation weapon systems available. 

To that end, the aircraft delivered to Japan range from only a few weeks to several months in age as each was delivered to MCAS Yuma shortly after its production. In order to maximize training value for 3rd MAW’s pilots and ground crews while simultaneously reducing operating costs, the aircraft were flown and maintained at MCAS Yuma under the custody of the “Flying Leathernecks” and “Wake Island Avengers,” as VMFA-122 and 211 are known. 

In a final training evolution, the “Flying Leathernecks” and “Wake Island Avengers,” in concert with pilots from the “Green Knights,” conducted a trans-Pacific flight with air-to-air refueling support provided by pilots from U.S. Transportation Command. The hand-off of the Lightning IIs from 3rd MAW to 1st MAW with external support epitomizes the rallying cry of “one team, one fight” that Marines and service members around the globe hold dear.  As a former 3rd MAW squadron, it was fitting that pilots from the Corps’ largest aircraft wing should deliver the platforms to their brothers and sisters in the Pacific.

“Through actions like these, 3rd MAW helps equip our comrades forward-deployed in Japan with the newest and most lethal equipment,” said Lt. Col. John Dirk, commanding officer of VMFA-122.  “These brand new aircraft were transferred to 1st MAW upon arrival, ensuring that our ‘Fight Tonight’ force has the most capable jets in the world.”  

As the Fleet Marine Force continues to shape itself into a more lethal force capable of winning in contested maritime environments, the F-35B plays a key role in both deterring and defeating peer adversaries.  With its supersonic speed, radar-evading stealth, fighter agility, short takeoff/vertical landing capabilities and its comprehensive integrated sensor package, the Lighting II represents the future of close air support and air superiority.  Through its ability to operate nearly anywhere in the world – from expeditionary airfields to amphibious assault ships at sea – the versatility of the aircraft provides the Corps with the capacity to operate successfully in a broad range of scenarios.

“With these new aircraft 1st MAW will be prepared to support Marine Air-Ground Task Force and Joint tasking in contested environments throughout the USINDOPACOM area of operations,” said Dirk.  “Actions of mutual support between Marine Aircraft Wings like these ensure readiness and lethality across Marine aviation and guarantee that we live up to our charter as the nation's Force-in-Readiness.”

3rd MAW continues to “Fix, Fly and Fight” as a multifaceted force, capable of conducing missions across the range of military operations in the defense of America and its interests.  No matter the foe, no matter the place, the Marines and Sailors of 3rd MAW stand ready – with 1st MAW and the Joint Force – when others are not.

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