Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, will team up with Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in California, in a series of exercises before their joint deployment in the Pacific next year with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, Commanding General of the Marine’s Combat Development Command, told Military.com, "We'll get them together now and start operating together, and start to wring out ideas about how you can use the F-35 differently." Walsh added, "when you finally get aboard the [amphibious assault ship] USS Wasp together, you already have started to figure, they can do some groundbreaking stuff with the capabilities we're going to bring into 3/5, technology-wise."
In January the VMFA-121 is slated to deploy to Okinawa, Japan, while the 31st MEU will see its first deployment in the fall. The squadron is also set to join the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, which will mark the jet’s first usage against Daesh.
The Marines have shown a penchant for acquiring and prototyping new technology recently. In February, Commandant General Robert Neller said that the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines at Pendleton would act as an "experimental unit," whose chief purpose would be field-testing new acquisitions to see how they fit into routine operations.
Walsh hopes that the battalion can send joint terminal attack and air controllers to Yuma’s Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 and VMFA-121, to begin communicating on how to best use the F-35s while still stateside.
He said, "Get them into those units, get them smart on what the F-35 can do, and start pulling together…It doesn't have to be the whole battalion; it can be bits and pieces starting to work together more."