Deployment of first F-35B begins aboard US warship in Japan

MELBOURNE, Australia – The US Navy’s amphibious assault ship Wasp has arrived at its new home port in Japan, paving the way for the first time for the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fighter to set sail for a cruise operational later this year.

On January 14, the ship’s arrival at the 7th Fleet base in Sasebo marks the end of a 28,400 mile voyage from Norfolk, Va., Which began in August and included nearly two months of humanitarian relief following two hurricanes in the Caribbean, during which the aircraft aboard the Wasp carried a total of 1,129 passengers as well as 26,720 pounds of equipment and over 1.7 million pounds of various support items logistics, including 328,100 pounds of food and water.

“The arrival of the USS Wasp represents an increase in military capability and a commitment to our partners and allies for security and stability in the region,” said Captain Colby Howard, commander of the Wasp. “Paired with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, we remain ready to execute the full range of military operations, from crisis response to disaster relief. “

The Wasp will replace the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard as the flagship of Task Force 76, which comprises all of the amphibious forces of the 7th Fleet and is the only forward-deployed expeditionary strike group of the US Navy. Three small amphibious assault ships based in Sasebo constitute the remainder of the amphibious component of the naval forces deployed in the front.

Le Bonhomme Richard is set to end a five-year stay in Japan and return to San Diego, Calif., Following an upcoming patrol scheduled in the region, which will include Defense News will include participation in Cobra Gold, an annual multilateral exercise organized by Thailand in mid-February.

Meanwhile, the Wasp will prepare for its own scheduled patrol later in the year with the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, which has relocated to Iwakuni, Japan, in early 2017. The squadron is the Marine Corps‘ first F-35B operational unit and currently has 16 aircraft in Iwakuni.

The short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs replace the rotating detachments of AV-8B Harrier II jets in the United States to Okinawa as part of the Marine Unit Deployment Program, or UDP. The last Harrier UDP detachment ended in August 2017, returning to the United States from Australia following Exercise Talisman Saber.

The relocation of the Wasp and the upcoming F-35 cruise is part of the normal cycle of forward-deployed naval deployments and the Department of Defense’s efforts to position themselves forward in support of partner and allied assets the most advanced and capable. But like other major military arrivals in the Western Pacific, it takes on added significance as the United States and Asian countries respond to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.

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