A Yuma, Arizona-based Marine AV-8B Harrier squadron will officially be redesignated Thursday as it welcomes brand-new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.
Marine Attack Squadron 211 will be the second operational F-35B squadron for the Marine Corps, coming online 11 months after the service announced initial operating capability for the aircraft last July. It joins Yuma-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 in operating the fifth generation aircraft.
The Thursday ceremony will re-designate VMA-211 as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211. According to a news release from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, the squadron received its first two F-35B aircraft on May 9 — three days after it completed its final flights with the Harrier. Officials did not immediately respond to a request about when the remaining joint strike fighters made by Lockheed Martin Corp. would join the squadron.
At the same time, the unit will observe a change of command as outgoing commanding officer Lt. Col. William Maples passes authority to Lt. Col. Chad Vaughn.
The F-35B is ultimately set to replace the Harrier, the F/A-18 Hornet, and the EA-6B Prowler for the Marine Corps. According to Marine officials, the Prowler will be the first to retire, sun-downing its four squadrons at the rate of one per year beginning this year.
The Harrier is set to retire in 2026, and Hornets will fly into the 2030s.
This new squadron of F-35s becomes operational as the Corps prepares to deploy its first squadron of the fifth-generation fighters next year.
VMFA-121 will deploy to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, in January, officials have said. In fall of next year, the squadron will depart with an amphibious ready group on a pump around the Western Pacific.
Other Marine joint strike fighter squadrons are scheduled to come online soon.
According to Marine officials, Beaufort, South Carolina’s VMFA-122, a F/A-18 Hornet squadron, will begin receiving the F-35B in 2018. Two more squadrons, Beaufort-based VMFA-115 and Yuma-based VMA-311, will transition from Hornets and Harriers respectively to the joint strike fighter beginning in 2020.