IWAKUNI, Japan, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Marines have relocated the first operational F-35B Lightning II squadron from a base in Arizona to Japan.
The relocation makes the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, the first location to receive the branch's F-35 variant as part of the plane's worldwide deployment capability.
Defense News reports 10 F-35Bs from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, or VMFA-121, departed for Japan, and an additional six are scheduled to join them at a later date.
In a statement, the Marine Corps hailed the event as a milestone for the F-35 program. The relocation follows the final testing period for the 5th-generation fighter, in which Marine Corps pilots operated F-35Bs in Developmental Test III and the Lightning Carrier Proof of Concept Demonstration aboard the USS America in October 2016.
The F-35B was designed by Lockheed Martin and other industry partners to combine short takeoff and vertical landing with stealth capabilities. The Marines plan to use the fifth-generation fighter to replace its legacy fleet of F/A-18 Hornets, A-10 Thunderbolts, and various other aircraft.
Other operators include Italy and Britain.
The Air Force is expected to become the next U.S. armed service to make an international deployment with its F-35 variant, and is eyeing a relocation to Europe.