MANILA — Having the United States Marine Corps (USMC)’s F-35B “Lightning II” stealth, multi-role and all-weather fighter jet in the ongoing “Balikatan” 2019 highlights Washington’s support to its regional allies, partners and a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“The US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II is participating in Exercise Balikatan 2019 in support of regional allies, partners, and a free and open Indo-Pacific. The aircraft will conduct flight operations in international airspace over the Philippine Sea while aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1),” 2nd Lt. Tori Sharpe, Exercise “Balikatan” media officer, said in a series of messages to the Philippine News Agency last week when asked about the role the fighter jet plays in the ongoing exercises.
“The F-35B Lightning II is the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force, possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness. Exercises like Balikatan enable us to learn more about its capabilities and how to best utilize it,” she added.
The USS Wasp is described as an “amphibious assault ship capable of enabling rapid combat power build up ashore, as well as supporting humanitarian and other contingency missions on short notice”.
When asked how many F-35Bs and crewmen are currently deployed aboard the American ship, Sharpe declined to give the exact numbers for security reasons.
“Due to operational security concerns, we are unable to disclose the number of service members aboard the USS Wasp,” she added.
All of the F-35Bs aboard the USS Wasp are from USMC’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121).
This year’s “Balikatan” is the first time the F-35Bs were paired with the USS Wasp.
“Regarding US Marine Corps aircraft specifically, it’s important to include the Corps’ newest fixed-wing platform in exercises like Balikatan 19 because we learn more about the F-35B’s capabilities and how to best utilize and integrate it with other assets. Having the F-35B Lightning II in the Indo-Pacific region enables the Marine Corps to support our regional partners during crises by enabling our forces to perform a wide range of missions across multiple domains,” Sharpe said.
She also pointed out that the F-35B is a highly-capable, fifth-generation platform that brings operational flexibility to 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. But details concerning the aircraft’s weapons systems were not discussed due to security reasons.
“As a matter of operational security, we cannot discuss the aircraft’s specific weapons systems. However, the flexible, multi-role capabilities of the F-35B enhance strategic agility, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy, and its participation in Balikatan 19 is an opportunity to reiterate the US’s support of regional allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” Sharpe stressed.
Priam Nepomuceno /PNA – northboundasia.com