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Marine Corps stands up a second F-35B squadron at MCAS Iwakuni in Japan

The Marine Corps on Oct. 16, 2020, redesignated a unit at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242. It is the second overseas Marine squadron to field the F-35B stealth fighter, according to Marine Aircraft Group 12.

TYLER HARMON/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 23, 2020

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — When the Marines take their next delivery of F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters, they’ll have a home waiting for them here.

The Marine Corps on Oct. 16 redesignated an existing unit at MCAS Iwakuni as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242, the second Marine squadron overseas to field the F-35B, according to a press release Friday from Marine Aircraft Group 12.

The first was Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which arrived at MCAS Iwakuni in January 2017.

Along with new name, the squadron also changed commanders. Lt. Col. Andrew Kelemen handed the organization to Lt. Col. Michael Wyrsch in a ceremony the same day, according to the aircraft group.

The F-35B is the Marine Corps’ variation of the joint strike fighter and comes with short-takeoff and vertical-landing capabilities that allow it to operate from flat-deck amphibious assault ships like the USS America, homeported at nearby Sasebo Naval Base.

The F-35B, one of three F-35 variants, is produced by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman at a cost of about $102 million each, according to Lockheed Martin. It’s designed to be stealthy and to replace three other aircraft types; it fills several roles, from close-air support to air superiority and electronic warfare, among others, according to the aircraft maker.

The F-35B will eventually replace the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler in all Marine Corps units.

“F-35B gives us the ability to dominate air and sea space and persist wherever we are without rival. It is an expeditionary platform that literally holds doors open for the Fleet Marine and Joint Force,” the Marines quoted Brig. Gen. Chris McPhillips, commander of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, Japan, as saying. “F-35B basing in Japan is not by accident, it has occurred here more rapidly than in other parts of world, which is a testament to our commitment to Japan and the region.”

McPhillips left unstated the “great power” competition unfolding in the Indo-Pacific region between the United States and China, which lays claim to much of the South China Sea and challenges the right of free passage claimed by other nations. China, Taiwan and Japan also contest ownership of the Senkakus, called the Diaoyu by China, a group of islets west of Okinawa.

Japan has already taken delivery of several F-35As, the conventional variant used by the U.S. Air Force, and is refurbishing the JS Izumo helicopter carrier to accommodate the F-35B. Japan agreed in 2018 to purchase a 147 F-35s, according to Lockheed Martin.

Formerly known as Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, the newly christened Fighter Attack Squadron 242 has flown the F/A-Hornet since 1990 and traces its roots to World War II.

As the all weather squadron, 242 lost a Hornet pilot who drowned following a December 2018 collision with a KC-130J Super Hercules refueler that also killed five Marines aboard the tanker.

The Marines’ press release did not specify when the squadron’s first Lightning II would be delivered or how long it would take to field an entire squadron of F-35Bs.

Until those aircraft arrive, two Marine F/A-18 squadrons, one more than usual, from a base in South Carolina are deployed to MCAS Iwakuni on six-month rotations.

MCAS Iwakuni is home to Marine Aircraft Group 12, the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5 and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet Wing 31.

bolinger.james@stripes.com

Twitter: @bolingerj2004

An F-35B Lightning II prepares to land at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 19, 2017.
AARON HENSON/U.S. MARINE CORPS