Since relocating from Yuma, Arizona, to Iwakuni, Japan, in January, the Marine Corps’ first squadron of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters has been hard at work ironing out the basics of operations in the Pacific, from streamlining supply chains to practicing “hot reloads” and rapid ground refueling from a KC-130.
This fall, the unit — Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 — will deploy aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
And the squadron is well aware that a sea deployment in the tense Pacific could well entail responding to a regional crisis or a combat contingency, Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, the squadron’s commanding officer, toldin an interview this month.
“When I was a young guy in [AV-8B] Harrier land in 2003, several MEUs … were in a normal deployment and something happened, and they ended up in a bigger picture,” Rusnok said, referring to MEU-based combat units dispatched to Iraq to assist with ground operations during the invasion. “That’s something that could really happen. Given the small numbers of F-35s that are out there, I think [combatant commanders] are going to look at that and say, ‘I’ve got six airplanes out on the MEU. I could do something with them.’ ”