F-35B fighters arrive in Japan for inaugural overseas mission
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 18, 2017
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A squadron of F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters touched down Wednesday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, to begin the aircraft’s first overseas mission, Marine Corps officials said.
The controversial high-tech jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 came from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., but they will be permanently based at Iwakuni, the officials said in a statement.
VMFA 121’s Green Knights fly a “short takeoff vertical landing” version of the aircraft, which is designed to replace F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler jets.
"The arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional-security of the Pacific," Maj. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing commander, said in the statement. "We are bringing the most advanced technology to the Pacific to respond to the wide range of missions we take part in and provide greater support to our regional allies."
The new planes arrive at a time of high tension over disputed sea territory and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The Green Knights’ training in the U.S. has prepared them for their mission in Japan, the squadron’s commander, Marine Lt. Col. J. T. Bardo said in the statement.
"Our Marines and family members take great pride in being able to serve here and be part of the amazing community in Iwakuni, both on and around the air station," he said.
The hugely expensive F-35 project has been plagued by cost overruns and long delays. President-elect Donald Trump has described it as “out of control” and indicated he may abandon the entire program.
Two F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, prepare to land at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 18, 2017. VMFA-121 conducted a permanent change of station to MCAS Iwakuni, from MCAS Yuma, Ariz., and now belongs to Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. The F-35B Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter, which is the world’s first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft. The F-35B brings strategic agility, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy to III MEF with a mission radius greater than that of the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II in support of the U.S. – Japan alliance.
AARON HENSON/U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO