March 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. military sent F-35B Lightning II aircraft this week to the East China Sea for the fighter's first operational deployment with a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
A detachment of the aircraft deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit landed Monday on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, according to the U.S. Marines. The expeditionary unit will patrol the Indo-Pacific region this spring.
The F-35B aircraft, first deployed abroad to Japan, combines the ability for short takeoffs and vertical landings built specifically for the Marines. The aircraft is one of three variants of the fifth generation F-35 designed for the U.S. military.
The F-35B's short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities mean it can land on amphibious assault ships, which include the USS Wasp.
Calling the F-35B a "game-changer," Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok said the Marine Corps hopes to integrate the fighters with Navy Amphibious forces during the Indo-Pacific deployment and in the future.
"This is a historic deployment," said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31st MEU Commanding Officer. "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."