Watch Out China – The U.S. Navy Has F-35s Operating in the Indo-Pacific: The United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps are now operating more than two dozen Lockheed Martin F-35 Light II Joint Strike Fighters on vessels in the Indo-Pacific.
Ten F-35Cs, the aircraft carrier-based variant that is only in service with the U.S. Navy, are now in service with the VFA-147 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) “Argonauts” from Naval Air Station Lemoore and are embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Also, another ten Marine Corps F-35Cs from the U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 “Black Knights” from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., are now embarked on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).
In addition, several Marine Corps F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing variant are now operating aboard USS America (LHA-6). The Marine Corps did not provide the number of fighters aboard the amphibious ship, but based on information from the U.S. Navy, at least five F-35Bs aboard the amphibious assault ship when it deployed, USNI News reported.
The three air units represent the largest assembly of deployed U.S. naval F-35s to date. The deployment of the highly capable fifth-generation combat aircraft comes just months after the U.S. and U.K. embarked 18 F-35Bs aboard Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R06), which operated in the Indo-Pacific as part of her maiden voyage to the Far East.
Trio of Flat Tops
Both of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers and its big-deck amphibious ship had been operating in the Philippine Sea as of Tuesday, according to the USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.
The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (VINCSG) along with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESX ARG) had completed joint expeditionary strike training operations in the South China Sea on Sunday, the U.S. 7th Fleet announced this week. The training operations reportedly included integrated maritime strike missions, maritime interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, replenishment-at-sea and formation maneuvering/navigation operations.
The Navy has regularly conducted such operations to ensure readiness and interoperability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Our ability to quickly and effectively integrate with an amphibious ready group, such as ESX ARG, demonstrates a diverse level of naval lethality that is unlike any other naval force,” said Rear Adm. Dan Martin, commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1. “The long-range strike capability of the Vinson Strike Group combined with the Essex ARG’s potential to deliver a payload of Marines to any maritime region greatly contributes to the U.S. strategic ability to continue defending a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Marine F-35 Aviators
It was just last month that the “Black Knights” became the first USMC squadron to deploy the F-35C on an aircraft carrier, after it conducted its final integrated training cycle.
“The ability to bring the F-35C to Carrier Air Wing Nine allows us to fill a significant role as an instrumental force multiplier,” said Lt. Col. Brendan M. Walsh, commanding officer, VMFA-314. “By leveraging our aircraft’s stealth and sensor capabilities we are able to provide the other platforms we work alongside with critical intelligence and battlespace awareness thought previously unobtainable by any of the Marine Corps legacy platforms.”
VMFA-314 was the first Marine Corps squadron to transition to the F-35C variant of the joint strike fighter after retiring its legacy F/A-18A/C aircraft and receiving its first F-35C on January 21, 2020.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a Forbes Magazine Contributing Writer.