Marines Planning F-35B Deployment to CENTCOM

The Marine Corps is planning to deploy the F-35B to the US Central Command area of responsibility aboard the USS Essex, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told reporters Tuesday. The move will follow the deployment of 10 F-35Bs of the Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121 to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, in January 2017. Six more F-35Bs will deploy to the Pacific aboard the USS Wasp, said Walsh, who also serves as deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration. Walsh did not provide a date for the Essex deployment, but said he expects it to occur about eight months after the Wasp deploys. The Navy does not provide specific timelines for future ship deployments. “That’s quite the challenge, to put two squadrons aboard two ships and deploy them,” Walsh told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C. “As the first one out the door in an operational deployment, we’ll learn from that and see what capabilities that we have to grow into the airplane and continue to develop.” He said the F-35’s electronic warfare, signal intelligence, and information-sharing capabilities will be tested. “So I think a lot of it is going to be school of hard knocks when we put it out there—learning how to share better—but I think we’re real excited because it will be the first fifth-generation aircraft that we’re going to be deploying in the Marine Corps,” Walsh said.