Senator John McCain, (R) Ariz., and U.S. Marine Brigadier General Steven Busby, who recently took command of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, visited Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to check on the progress of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, Aug. 22.
The construction of JSF facilities, as well as the training of personnel to handle and maintain the aircraft, is moving ahead on schedule for what will soon be the Marine Corps’ first operational Joint Strike Fighter squadron, Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 121. VMFA-121 (AW) is currently an F/A-18 squadron based at MCAS Miramar but is expected to be re-designated as VMFA-121 at MCAS Yuma by the end of the year.
McCain and Busby’s visit came at a critical time as MCAS Yuma prepares for the arrival of the first F-35B in Nov.
With great sincerity, McCain spoke to a room of Marines who are crucial to the JSF, adding perspective to the work they have completed thus far and encouraging them to stay on course.
“I wish you luck,” said McCain. “If this proves successful, you will impact more than just this air station. You are pioneers. We are all counting on you.”
Beyond moving closer to completing construction and utility projects in preparation for the JSF, Marines who will fly, maintain and support the first F-35B squadron are arriving in to Yuma now. Almost 100 personnel are now on deck to stand up the squadron, with many expected to depart for formal JSF training at Eglin Air Force Base in the coming weeks. The construction of facilities in Yuma, U.S. Marine F-3B pilot training at Eglin AFB and the early Aug. weapons release test at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. are examples of the nimble pace set for the role out of this fifth-generation strike fighter.
“A lot has been done in a very small amount of time,” said Col. Michael Gough, the Marine Aircraft Group 13 commanding officer.
“This was all desert a year ago,” said Col. Robert Kuckuk, the MCAS Yuma commanding officer, pointing out the landscape where two JSF hangars, a maintenance hangar and new construction on two additional hangars now rests. “In short, Yuma is ready.”
Once fielded, the JSF is expected to provide the dominant, multi-role functionality needed across the full spectrum of combat operations to deter potential adversaries and enable future naval aviation power projection.
“(The JSF’s) capabilities are very impressive,” stated Gough. “When you look at a conflict like Libya, the Harrier did well, but the F-35 could open up even more doors.”
While the new aircraft is costly to develop, in the end it will pay off.
“It costs a lot of money to fly airplanes. They are expensive,” said Kuckuk. “But these airplanes are very capable. It goes far beyond how fast they go, or how quick they can turn or what ordnance they can carry. The capability of the coming aircraft is spectacular. It will be a true force multiplier.”
Although there are other Marine installations where the JSF could be first introduced, MCAS Yuma offers elements few other installations can boast.
“The reason Yuma was selected as the first operational JSF base is pretty obvious when you look at the weather we have, the air operations we can support, the access we have to ranges, ordnance, etc.,” said Kuckuk. “We have (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1) here. The latest in tactics and developments are worked on here. If you want to go to the center of Marine tactical aviation, that’s Yuma.”
MCAS Yuma was only one stop, albeit an important one, of the Senator’s tour across the state he represents. The same can be said of Busby, who is touring all the installations and units under his new command, imparting words of wisdom to Marines and Sailors across 3rd MAW.
“Every single day I have the privilege to command Third Marine Aircraft Wing. I am going to be sitting back smiling,” said Busby to a Marines and Sailors of MAG-13, “because I have the honor of watching the best our nation has to offer. That’s each of you. Attack your mission with courage and determination. I ask you to take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and have fun. Semper Fi, Marines.”