The Marine’s F-35 fifth-generation fighter jet variant is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and has been described as a "jewel" by Deputy Commandant Lt. Gen. Jon Davis.
"We’ve got a jewel in our hands and we’ve just started to exploit that capability and we’re very excited about it," he told reporters last month.
But the gem is far from flawless. The F-35 has been riddled with problems, and engineers are still working out the kinks, even in the two variants deemed combat-ready.
The Marine Corps is aware of the problems, but has decided it can’t fully comprehend the full scope of what needs to be addressed until the beleaguered aircraft seen them in action.
"The Marine Corps has been out in front with the F-35B," Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh clarified on Tuesday, according to Defense One.
"It’s probably not the way we would have wanted it, [but] we want to exploit fifth-generation…We’ve been after this a long time."
The Marines will be the first US military branch to deploy the fighter jet in an operational capacity. Next year, 16 F-35Bs will move to Iwakuni Air Station in Japan before being stationed aboard the USS Wasp.
"We will learn from that, and see what capabilities we need to further develop," Walsh said.
"A lot of it’s going to be the school of hard knocks."
From there, a second contingent of fighters will be deployed aboard the USS Essex.
"We’re getting ready to do more F-35 integration: Essex will go in and it will get those mods, and it will come out and be ready for deployment, I think, probably eight months or so after Wasp,” Walsh said. “And we’ll just continue to modify our big-deck amphibs to be able to take F-35s."
Maintenance crews aboard amphibious assault ships have already commented on unique challenges posed by the F-35.
"Normally the first we do if there’s a fire on deck is we put cooling water on the ordnance but if the ordinance is inside the aircraft, how are we supposed to cool the ordnance?" US Navy Lt. Commander Matthew Miller told US Naval Institute News on Monday.
"This is a technical problem that we haven’t totally gotten the answer for yet, we’re hoping they’re going to come up with something [during training.]"
With so many challenges to overcome, the Marine Corps may have a grueling integration process to face.