F-35B Lightning II declared operational

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Two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters complete vertical landings aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) during the opening day of the first session of operational testing(Credit: US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Remington Hall)

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The US Marine Corps has declared the F-35B Lightning II operational. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, which has ten of the vertical and/or short take-off and landing (VSTOL) multi-role fighters, was today officially cleared for worldwide deployment after a five-day Operational Readiness Inspection.

Today, the US Marine Corps declared the F-35B Lightning II aircraft variant operational. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, which has ten of the vertical and/or short take-off and landing (VSTOL) multi-role fighters, is officially cleared for worldwide deployment after a five-day Operational Readiness Inspection.

The F-35B is one of three variants of the supersonic fifth-generation Lightning II fighter and is designed primarily for use with the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. Using a directed thruster and lift fan, it is capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings, which means it can operate without airfields or from aircraft carriers without the need for catapult launchers. It will act as the mainstay fixed-wing warplane for Britain's Queen Elizabeth-class carriers and will replace the US Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, and EA-6B Prowler.

According to Marine Corps Commandant, General Joseph Dunford, the F-35B and VMFA-121 have fulfilled the requirements as laid out in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees

"VMFA-121 has ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship" said General Dunford. "It is capable of conducting Close Air Support, Offensive and Defensive Counter Air, Air Interdiction, Assault Support Escort, and Armed Reconnaissance as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or in support of the Joint Force."

Dunford went on to say that the clearance is based on seven weeks of sea trials on an L-class carrier in large-force exercises and multiple live-ordnance sorties. So far, the Marines have qualified 50 F-35B pilots and 500 maintenance personnel. A second squadron, Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), is scheduled to go live next year, followed by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122) in 2018.

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