"Pairing F-35B Lightning IIs with the USS Wasp represents one of the most significant leaps in warfighting capability for the Navy-Marine Corps team in our lifetime," US Navy Rear Adm. Brad Cooper said in a March 5 news release.
The F-35 detachment on board the ship marks "the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a US Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific," the service said.
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) March 5, 2018
According to commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Col. Tye Wallace, the development is a "historic deployment" as it "brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that makes us more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force."
While the F-35s in the Indo-Pacific are making progress, developments in the F-35 joint strike fighter program in Washington have been choppy at best. On Monday, the head of the Pentagon's F-35 office confirmed that some 49 percent of the 280 planes delivered to the US military by Lockheed Martin are suffering from a series of hardware and software problems. As a result, only about 51 percent of the F-35s in the military's possession are flight ready.
And despite US President Donald Trump claiming to have negotiated hundreds of millions in savings on the F-35 program, on March 1, Vice Admiral Mat Winter said "the price is coming down but it's not coming down fast enough."
Still, some former US military officers agree with their in-uniform counterparts who say the stealthy jet's USS Wasp deployment is significant. "Actually deploying the squadron aboard a ship, that's a major step forward, because it means you've got shipboard versions of all that capability," according to Dakota Wood, former strategic planner for the US Marine Corps and senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation.
As Business Insider notes, China and North Korea will be sure to recognize the potential threats that a stealth-reconnaissance-bomber jet poses in the Indo-Pacific region.