The Green Knights Return to the Pacific as Fifth Generation Fighting Force


2017-01-18 While Prime Minister Abe was traveling this week around the Pacific shaping effective means to enhance defense and security cooperation in the region, the Marines were bringing new capabilities to reinforce U.S. and allied capabilities to execute the mission.

The first time the Green Knights came to the Pacific was to fight the Japanese at Guadalcanal.

This time the Green Knights have come to reinforce U.S., Japanese and allied capabilities for deterrence in depth as an F-35 squadron. 

Because of winter flying conditions, the Marines flew the Northern route across the Pacific from CONUS to Alaska and then eventually to Japan.

The Marines flew into tough weather conditions suggested by the following screen shot of the Northern Pacific storm/surf report.

Last year, an Italian pilot became the first pilot to fly across the Atlantic and he also flew in winter conditions.

And the fact that Italians and Marines are the first respectively to cross the Atlantic and the Pacific, respectively, says something important about the core collaboration going on between the United States and its core allies.

According to the USMC press release dated January 18, 2017:

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan (Jan 18, 2017) – F-35B Lightning II aircraft, belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, Marine Aircraft Group 12, arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni January 18, beginning the squadron’s permanent basing at the air station.

The F-35B represents the future of Marine Corps tactical aviation and incorporates the mission capabilities of the current Marine Corps platforms it is replacing-the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet, and EA-6B Prowler-within a single airframe.

In addition to its short takeoff and vertical landing capability, the F-35B’s unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar, sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.

“The arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional-security of the Pacific,” said Maj. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Commanding General.

“We are bringing the most advanced technology to the Pacific to respond to the wide range of missions we take part in and provide greater support to our regional allies.”

Prior to arriving in Iwakuni, VMFA-121 was stationed with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Yuma, Arizona.

During the squadron’s time in Arizona, the aircraft successfully participated in numerous exercises and training events.

Our training in the U.S. has prepared us well for our mission here in Japan and we are very honored to have such a warm welcome,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. J. T. Bardo, commanding officer of VMFA-121.

“Our Marines and family members take great pride in being able to serve here and be part of the amazing community in Iwakuni, both on and around the air station.”

In our interview with Lt. Col. Bardo at Yuma as he prepared the squadron for departure, he underscored the importance of what the Marines were about to do, both in terms of providing close air support for Marine Corps operations as well as providing a new air-to-air capability for the force.

“CAS is considered doctrinally a function which operates only in a permissive air environment.

“We can expand CAS to deal with a much wider range of situations than when we would simply operate in a permissive air environment.

“And we can provide greater assurance to Marines as they deploy on the ground that we can deal with a much wider array of pop-up threats than we could do with legacy aircraft.”

And when he discussed the experience of the squadron at Red Flag he highlighted the air to air role as well.

This summer, the squadron sent planes to Red Flag and flew in a US-only exercise with the full panoply of USN and USAF aircraft, excluding the F-15s.

There the USMC flew its jets and were part of reshaping of air to air operations associated with the F-35.

Lt. Col. Bardo, CO of the Green Knights, Lands in Japan from on Vimeo.

Lt. Col. Bardo noted that there were many F-16 National Guard pilots who were there, some of which had flown with the F-22 but had not flown with the F-35.

They soon learned that you did not want to be an adversary but to leverage what the F-35 brought the fight.”

And most of all, he underscored the flexibility for the pilot in the ability to execute multi-missions with much greater proficiency.

“For the pilot, the ability to shift among missions without having to think sequentially about doing so is really a key strength of the aircraft.

“The airplane can think CAS and air-to-air at the same time and the pilot can then mix and match as the mission demands rather than having to think through the sequence of going from one mission set to the next.”

In short, the Marines have brought a new capability to the fight and with the dynamics of change in the Pacific they have come not a minute too soon.

Editor’s Note: Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan added this story after our article was published.

VMFA-121 conducted a permanent change of station to MCAS Iwakuni from MCAS Yuma, Arizona, and now belongs to Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“There’s definitely been a lot of challenges . . . moving our aircraft here, the logistics and we have a lot of people to move,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Vincent Koscienlniak, an avionics technician with VMFA-121. “One of our biggest issues was the physical movement and preparing everything to come here. There has been a lot of cooperation within the unit and most of the Marines here are very good at what they do. They are hand-selected, and it has shown the last few months.”

VMFA-121 consists of the F-35B Lighting II aircraft, which is planned to replace the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II aircraft currently based at the air station.

The F-35B Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter, which is the world’s first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. The F-35B brings strategic agility, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy to the Pacific with a mission radius greater than that of the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II in support of the U.S. – Japan alliance.

“The F-35B represents the future of Marine Corps tactical aviation, and bringing it to Japan makes MCAS Iwakuni the second only operational F-35B base,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Jimmy Braudt, quality assurance officer and pilot with VMFA-121. “One of its capabilities is a powerful sensor suite that fuses together several different sources and provides superior situational awareness to the pilot. It will be the first short take-off and vertical landing aircraft permanently based in this theater, and is capable of countering modern threat systems beyond what legacy aircraft were designed to handle.”

Braudt said it impacts the relationship with Japan and other Pacific allies. Bringing the most capable, modern and lethal platform in the U.S. inventory to Iwakuni demonstrates the U.S. Government’s commitment to the defense of Japan.

The Marine Corps conducts the essential training needed to accomplish their assigned mission, including the training and operations required to be ready to defend the Pacific region as necessary.

“VMFA-121 desires to contribute to the readiness of MAG-12, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and III MEF as a whole,” said Braudt. “Our objective is to be highly trained and effective in our platform while learning how to integrate this new capability with the rest of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and our Pacific partner nations. We are happy to be in Japan and look forward to the culture we will get to experience, and would like to thank the people of Yamaguchi Prefecture and Iwakuni for being excellent hosts.”

Editor’s Note: For our Special Report which looks at the integration of the F-35B into MAGTF operations, see the following:

The Integration of the F-35B into USMC Operations