The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has been deployed to the Middle East for the first time as part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is the first combat-deployed MEU to utilize the F-35B, replacing its predecessor the AV-8B Harrier. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) has provided the F-35Bs for the 13th MEU’s deployment with the Essex ARG in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
The first F-35B ARG/MEU deployment was in February 2018 with the Wasp ARG and 31st MEU.
The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory, providing the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) significantly improved capability to approach missions from a position of strength.
NAVCENT Commander Vice Adm. Scott Stearney explained how the F-35B will change the region’s operational landscape.
“The F-35B strengthens the ARG/MEU through new and increased multi-mission capabilities,” said Stearney. “This state-of-the-art platform provides unparalleled protection to our deployed warfighters and partnered forces because of its ability to conduct strikes and close air support in challenging environments that would otherwise be inaccessible or require multiple aircraft.”
The ARG/MEU team will participate in exercises and, as tasked, combat operations during their deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. This deployment reaffirms U.S. capability, intent and resolve to ensure maritime security and stability in the region while providing support to operations on the ground.
The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.