With 32 F-35B stealth fighter jets, US Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 242 in Iwakuni, Japan, was recently declared fully operational, greatly reinforcing the shared US-Japan vision of an Indo-Pacific free and open.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 242 achieved full operational capability (FOC) on 17 May 2022, and approximately 32 F-35B aircraft were permanently forward based as part of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 12 from the USMC, the service announced. in a report.
In January 2017, MAG-12 deployed the first squadron of forward-based F-35Bs. At the time, VMFA-121 was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.
MAG-12 is now the only forward-based unit in the Indo-Pacific with two squadrons of F-35Bs permanently based, due to the addition of VMFA-242.
A @USMC An F-35B aircraft with VMFA-121 arrives at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan 🇯🇵.
— F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (@theF35JPO) May 17, 2022
The F-35 Lightning II aircraft will soon replace the current tactical aviation fleet, according to the USMC. The F/A-18 Hornet, EA-6B Prowler and AV-8B Harrier are among the aircraft currently in service.
The transition occurred in accordance with the USMC Annual Aviation Plan schedule. VMFA-242, also known as Bats, was redesignated as an F-35B squadron on October 16, 2020 and reached initial operating capability (IOC) last September.
“FOC’s milestone is the culmination of more than two years of planning and execution while deploying in anticipation of and in the face of a global pandemic. In my more than 20 years of service, I had never noticed a unit combining in a way that our Marines and Sailors overcame many challenges,” said Lt. Col. Michael Wyrsch, commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242).
The F-35B is a fifth-generation stealth aircraft designed to operate from amphibious assault ships and short expeditionary airfields. The aircraft is capable of STOVL (short takeoff and vertical landing).
Meanwhile, this milestone also marks the growing consolidation of US and Japanese defense strategy, particularly with respect to the F-35.
In 2021, a USMC pilot from VMFA-242 successfully landed an F-35B on the Japanese Izumo aircraft. It was a momentous occasion as it was the first time a fixed-wing aircraft had landed on a Japanese carrier since World War II.
“VMFA-242 executed a masterful training plan and successfully completed the required elements necessary to declare FOC. This statement provides additional capabilities and capabilities, improves our posture, and ensures we are able to respond effectively to any task,” said Major General Brian W. Cavanaugh, commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
Japan intends to purchase up to 105 F-35 fighter jets for its own military. Procurement of 63 conventional take-off and landing F-35As and 42 STOVL variants is underway.
U.S.-Japan Cooperation on the Taiwan Question
In an extremely strong position in favor of the self-governing island of Taiwan, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if China attacked it.
Biden said the United States’ obligation to defend the self-governing island was “even stronger” after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The US president said any decision by Beijing to use force against Taiwan would “simply not be appropriate…it would dismember the whole region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
China’s growing presence in the region, which includes military maneuvers near Taiwan and air and sea operations around a Japanese-administered island group in the East China Sea, has been a major objectives of President Biden’s current visit, surpassing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
In response, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, mentioned the Taiwan issue was “a purely internal matter for China”. “On issues affecting the core interests of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, China has no room for compromise or concession,” Wang said.
Wang said China will always protect its rights with the power of its 1.4 billion people. “No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s firm determination, unwavering will and strong ability to uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
Meanwhile, US President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have pledged to work closely together in response to China’s “increasingly coercive behavior that goes against international law”.
Later, Biden expressed support for Japan’s defense ambitions. Japan’s ruling party is debating whether it should gain the ability to launch a first strike against enemy bases if it feels threatened, a move some say would violate the post-war “pacifist” constitution of the country. country.
“I applaud Japan’s determination to strengthen its defense – a strong Japan and a strong Japan-US alliance is a force for good in the world,” Biden said.
Kishida said Japan’s defenses would be “fundamentally” strengthened, adding: “I said all options were on the table, including Japan’s ability to carry out first strikes on enemy bases.”
Kishida also reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. “Attempts to change the status quo by force, such as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, should never be tolerated in the Indo-Pacific, especially in East Asia,” he said. declared.