F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jets with the fixed-wing detachment of Medium Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 262, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conducted a bombing exercise from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in the Philippine and East China Seas, Jan. 26 through Feb. 6, according to a press release by the US Indo-Pacific Command.
During the exercise, fifth-generation combat aircraft were armed with Sidewinder missiles and precision-guided munitions.
“We conducted these missions by launching from the USS Wasp, engaging role-player adversary aircraft, striking simulated targets with internally and externally mounted precision guided munitions, returning to the Wasp, and recovering via a vertical landing – a niche capability of the F-35B,” Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rountree, the F-35B detachment officer-in-charge aboard the USS Wasp. “This was the first time that this level of training has been performed by an operationally-deployed F-35B detachment with the 31st [Marine Expeditionary Unit].”
The exercise marks the first time that the F-35B jet performed bombing runs in the Indo-Pacific region, "demonstrating an increase in lethality and integrated amphibious capability," according to Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU.
“The combination of stealth tactics and fully-loaded strike aircraft increases the lethality of the F-35B, enabling greater contribution and combat effectiveness by the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit Team,” said Brodie, a career F/A-18 Hornet pilot. “The formidable and versatile capability of the F-35B provides a premier platform to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force’s ability to own the fight in the dynamic and evolving Indo-Pacific environment.”
The purpose of the drill could be a clear warning shot to China.
US and Japanese officials are worried about the sheer number of Chinese warships and bombers patrolling the Senkaku islands, which are uninhabited, located east of mainland China, northeast of Taiwan and west of Japan's Okinawa prefecture. Their location makes them strategically valuable to both China and Japan. Both countries have overlapping claims.
The 31st MEU is continuously forward-deployed with USS Wasp, provides a rapid lethal force ready to perform combat missions as the top crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Conflict with China could be on the horizon. The US military is undoubtedly preparing with stealth jets in a tense region in the East China Sea.