Marines welcome newest fighter jet

Image 1 of 8

American Marines have a new tool in the global battle for freedom. This week, a detachment of F-35B Lightning IIs landed on the USS Wasp, marking the advanced fighter plane’s first deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit.

The F-35 is one of the military’s most advanced new aircraft, including new electronics, sensors, and stealth capabilities.  The ‘B’ variant is the only one capable of near-vertical takeoffs and landings, designed especially to support Marines.

The resulting flexibility allows a lone F-35B to accomplish missions that would otherwise require multiple aircraft, the Marine Corps says.

“This is a historic deployment,” offered Col. Tye R. Wallace, commanding officer of the unit that received the planes. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”

PHOTOS: KC-135 refuels F-22 fighters

It was a gray Monday somewhere in the East China Sea as the Lightning IIs arrived, slowly hovering down to the deck of the Wasp. Pilots practiced their signature vertical landings and short takeoffs, and they expect to be fully qualified for operations soon and be ready for regular patrol.

“It’s an unbelievable aircraft,” added Maj. Michael Wyrsch, an F-35B pilot. “We have seen first-hand in multiple exercises and training events where the F-35 has brought an entirely new level of capability and lethality to the Marines on the ground as well as the overall air fight.”

PHOTOS: Refueling a B-52 bomber over the Big Easy