The US Marine Corps’ (USMC) Yuma-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 has successfully conducted the F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter’s (JSF) first expeditionary test.

Conducted during Exercise Steel Knight 16, VMFA-121 demonstrated the abilities of the F-35 to operate organically in an austere environment.

The F-35 used the expeditionary airfield on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, and the expeditionary landing pad at Red Beach on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, US.

"This is going to be a real learning experience for everyone involved and will prove helpful in the future when developing tactics."

VMFA-121 flight operations officer major Colin Newbold said: "We’ve done similar landings in Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, but the one at Red Beach was the smallest vertical landing pad we have used to date.

"This is the first time that we get to truly test the capabilities of the aircraft in an expeditionary setting.

"This is going to be a real learning experience for everyone involved and will prove helpful in the future when developing tactics."

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Exercise Steel Knight is a combined arms live-fire exercise that aims to prepare 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).

The exercise saw participation of a combination of air and ground assets, conducting a wide range of military operations.

In July this year, VMFA-121 became the first squadron to be operational with an F-35 variant.

The F-35 JSF is expected to replace three legacy platforms such as the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler.

Image: An F-35B Lightning II conducts a refuelling on Red Beach at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Photo: courtesy of Sgt. Brian Marion.