The US Marine Corps (USMC) has received the first two production-model F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft from Lockheed Martin at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, US.
The delivery follows after the aircraft completed 333 system development and demonstration test flights and 268 vertical landings last year. The fifth-generation fighters, designated as BF-6 and BF-8, will be used for pilot and maintainer training at the new F-35 Integrated Training Center, Florida, US.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 programme executive vice-president and general manager Larry Lawson said: "This aircraft will give our war-fighters the ability to accomplish their mission, wherever and whenever duty calls."
The Marines' F-35 STOVL joint strike fighter is capable of take-off from smaller amphibious warfare vessels, as well as landings on improvised airstrips, and will replace the 25-year-old AV-B Harrier. The F-35B, featuring a next-generation sensor suite including advanced cockpit and helmet displays, will be deployed near front-line combat zones for increased sortie rates and decreased need for logistics support.
The sensor suite will allow the pilot to make quick and effective tactical decisions, and transfer information to other aircraft as well as maritime and ground forces. The supersonic, radar-evading stealth aircraft provides close air support in conditions and locations that are usually inaccessible to traditional fighters.
The USMC ordered 16 F-35Bs in 2007 under the second lot of low-rate initial production and is considering acquiring an additional 13 aircraft. The F-35B is scheduled to enter service with the US Marines, the UK Royal Navy and the Italian Navy, and is being built in collaboration with industry partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.