The US Marine Corps' F-35B Lightning II aircraft joint strike fighter (JSF) has reached initial operational capability, after completing a five-day operational readiness inspection (ORI).
With the new development, Yuma-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) has become the first squadron to be operational with an F-35 variant.
Marine Corps commandant general Joseph Dunford said: "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.
"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."
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.
As part of the F-35 programme, more than 50 marine F-35B pilots received training, while approximately 500 maintenance personnel have been certified to assume autonomous, organic-level maintenance support for the F-35B.
US Defence Undersecretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics Frank Kendall said: "This accomplishment is an affirmation that the F-35 programme is on track to deliver essential 5th generation warfighting capabilities to our US services and international partners."
In July, VMFA-121 conducted the first F-35B operational ordnance expenditures. The training saw a total of 14 pilots use six F-35Bs to employ both inert and high-explosive munitions, as well as 18 guided bomb unit (GBU)-12s, and 12 GBU-32s.
Image: Two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters complete vertical landings aboard the USS Wasp (LHD-1) during operational testing. Photo: courtesy of US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Remington Hall / Released.