Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA–Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing conducted its first flight with the F-35B Lightning II in Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona on September 25.
The first flight was conducted in support of Marine Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 1-22 and comes shortly after the squadron transitioned from the F/A-18D Hornet to the F-35B. The event, formally labeled Fighter Integration 1, was to execute defensive counter-air in order to protect a friendly location from attack from enemy fighters and bombers by leveraging fighter integration tactics between Marine legacy F/A-18’s and fifth-generation F-35B’s.
After receiving their first F-35B in May, the primary task for the VMFA-225 “Vikings” to successfully transition to an F-35B squadron was getting their Marines in place and establishing the battle rhythm for the maintainers. The squadron doubled in size from May to September of this year and while each Marine went through advanced training, VMFA-225 simultaneously built the new maintenance department.
“We were accepting new aircraft, tools, and support equipment while building the processes to execute effective maintenance on our jets,” said Major Randy Brazile, executive officer of VMFA-225. “Prior to our first flight, we were inspected multiple times and certified safe to execute flight operations by 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.”
According to Maj. Brazile, this flight is not the end of the transition for the Vikings. The squadron will now focus on expanding their capacity in maintenance and pilot qualifications as they work toward their Initial Operations Capable (IOC) certification. This requires the Marines of VMFA-225 to continue to build their experience as the squadron grows from eight F-35Bs to ten. Also, this requires the pilots to train toward the mission essential tasks until each pilot is capable of executing all core mission sets of a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron.
The decision to transition to the F-35B comes in accordance with the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030, brought forward by, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger. Force Design was introduced to provide a more potent deterrent to conflict and a more lethal warfighting capability while maintaining our reputation as the world’s premier naval force-in-readiness.
As highlighted in most of the Commandant’s literature regarding Force Design, the F-35B will play a key role in his vision for Marine Corps’ role in the future fight. Aligned with unmanned aerial vehicles, F-35s will comprise the entirety of the Marine Corps’ Tactical Aviation by 2030. As the fifth operational F-35B squadron, VMFA-225 will have a significant role in developing the tactics, techniques and procedures employed by Marine Aviation once complete with the redesign. For instance, by 2022 when VMFA-225 is fully operational capable, the squadron will be in a unique position, as a member of the Marine Corps’ only MAG comprised of solely F-35Bs and MQ-9 Reapers to coordinate with adjacent MAG assets. The squadron will also be at the forefront of the Marine Corps’ development of the future Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
“We expect that the squadron will be one of the first, if not the first, F-35B squadrons to deploy on a MEU in its entirety as a ten plane squadron vice the traditional six plane detachment that is currently being used and has stood in place for decades under the previous AV-8B MEU support construct,” said Lt. Col. Alexander Goodno, commanding officer of VMFA-225.
This change in physical construct will bring an entirely new capability to the MEU and change how it is employed in future contingencies.
Transitioning to the F-35B Lightning II provides the Vikings with the ability to once again project power in areas where the U.S. might face a peer adversary. The F-35B also enables the Vikings to return to their maritime roots. While the squadron always possessed the capability with the A-6A Intruder and F/A-18D Hornet, not since the squadron maintained A-4C Skyhawks in the 1960’s has it been called upon to deploy forward from the sea on U.S. Navy ships. With the transition to the F-35B, the Vikings will find themselves regularly deployed on U.S. Navy amphibious ships.
Building from a squadron that, in January consisted of ten Marines and zero aircraft, to now well over 200 Marines and eight aircraft, they have met and exceeded expectations, according to Lt. Col. Goodno.
“By laying a solid foundation focused first on the Marine and Sailor and then on establishing a culture ingrained with standard adherences, we soared through all safe for flight inspections without misstep,” said Goodno. “Further, we did so ahead of schedule and in position so that once certified we were able to support flight operations at a pace that surpasses what previous squadron stand-ups for an F-35B operational squadron have been able to accomplish.”
3rd MAW continues to “Fix, Fly, and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing and remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.