F-35B: How the U.S. Marines Are Embracing This Powerful Stealth Fighter
The stealth fighter is making the Marines even deadlier as a fighting force.
The U.S. Marine aviators known as “Bats” have been officially redesignated as their unit becomes the second F-35B squadron established in the Indo-Pacific Region. The unit was first Marine squadron in the region was formed during World War II, and it was reactivated sixty years ago this month.
On October 16, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242—VMFA(AV)-242—under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW) has now become Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242). The redesignation is part of the United States Marine Corps’ ongoing transition process from the legacy F/A-18 Hornet aircraft to the fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II.
The transition has been conducted in complete accordance with mutual agreements between the United States and the Government of Japan, and according to the Marine Corps is on schedule per the annual service’s aviation plan.
The Lockheed Martin-built F-35B Light II is the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. The Marine Corps plans call for it to eventually operate 353 F-35Bs as well as 67 of the F-35Cs—the latter being the naval variant designed to operate off of aircraft carriers. The F-35 has been described as the future of Marine Corps’ tactical aviation, and will ultimately replace the AV-8B Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler in all units across the service.
“The increased capability of F-35B along with our other fifth generation capabilities in III MEF enable us to support Fleet Marines, Joint and Allied partners on a moment’s notice,” said Brigadier General Chris McPhillips, the commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing based in Okinawa, Japan. “F-35B gives us the ability to dominate air and sea space and persist wherever we are without rival. It is an expeditionary platform that literally holds doors open for the Fleet Marine and Joint Force. F-35B basing in Japan is not by accident, it has occurred here more rapidly than in other parts of world which is a testament to our commitment to Japan and the region.”
MAG-12 received the first forward-stationed F-35B squadron in January 2017 when VMFA-121 “Green Knights” were transferred from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona to Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan. In April of 2018, an F-35B from the squadron had to make an emergency landing at the Fukuoka airport.
With the addition of VMFA-242, MAG-12 is now the only overseas unit having two permanently stationed F-35B squadrons.
From Torpedo Bombers to Stealth Fighters
The history of the VMFA-242 “Bats” dates back to July 1943 when the unit was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station El Centro, California as Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 242 (VMTB-242) flying the TBM Avenger, and the unit departed San Diego on January 28, 1944 on board the escort carrier USS Kitkun Bay. VMTB-242 saw service in the North Solomons, and it later took part in the Battle of Saipan, the Battle of Tinian and the Battle of Iwo Jima.
While the squadron was deactivated in November 1945, it was reactivated as a Marine Attack Squadron (VMA-242), where Marine aviators flew the A4D Skyhawk. In 1964 with a transition to the A-6A Intruder the unit was redesignated VMA(AW)-242—and with that aircraft the squadron took part in many Operation Rolling Thunder missions over North Vietnam.
The squadron began to operate the F/A-18D Hornet in December 1990, and it was during that transition to the F/A-18D that the squadron adopted its motto, “Mors ex tenebris.”
More recently, VMA(AW)-242 took part in operations from Al Asad Airbase, Iraq providing close air support for the 1st Marine Division during Operation Phantom Fury. The squadron received the Robert M. Hanson “Marine Fighter Squadron” of the Year award in October 2005.
Now sixty years after reformed, “Bats” has become the second F-35B squadron established in the familiar Indo-Pacific stomping grounds.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.