Wednesday, August 17, 2022

US Marines transitions from Harrier to F-35B

Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), conducted a re-designation ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona, March 25, 2022.

As part of the transition from the AV-8B Harrier to the F-35B Lightning II, VMA-214 was re-designated as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 214. The F-35B Lightning II is replacing the AV-8B Harrier to introduce unmatched capabilities to the Marine Corps. The F-35B Lightning II represents a leap forward in air dominance by providing the operational agility and tactical supremacy Marines need to provide expeditious and lethal support.

“Having previously served in VMA-214 and flown the AV-8B for many years, the Black Sheep and the Harrier hold a special place in my heart,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Bradford J. Gering, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. “As 3rd MAW says a bittersweet farewell to the Harrier, we are excited to increase our number of F-35B squadrons with the re-designation of VMFA-214.”

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VMA-214 was initially commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 214 on July 1, 1942, on Oahu, Hawaii, flying the F4F Wildcat before transitioning to the F4U-1 Corsair. The squadron completed two combat tours under the previous call-sign “Swashbucklers” before reforming as the “Black Sheep” under the leadership of U.S. Marine Corps Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington in August 1943.

Photo by Samuel Ruiz

The Marines of VMF-214 selected the new squadron namesake to highlight the pilots’ varied experience levels. From seasoned veterans with multiple combat tours under their wings to pilots fresh from flight school, the Black Sheep built their legacy from years of arduous fighting in World War II. As a result of their accomplishments, VMF-214 became the first Marine fighter squadron awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action.

On July 9, 1957, the squadron was re-designated VMA-214 as the Black Sheep transitioned to flying fixed-wing attack aircraft. In Vietnam, the Marines of VMA-214 distinguished themselves as an attack squadron, flying the trustworthy A-4 Skyhawk from expeditionary airfields in Chu Lai. The Black Sheep continued to fly the A-4 until 1989, when they transitioned to the AV-8B Harrier. Over the next 30 years, the Black Sheep participated in combat operations throughout the globe, including Operation Restore Hope, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Most recently, VMA-214 completed its final AV-8B deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, during which they participated in Operation Inherent Resolve.

“The re-designation of VMA-214 to VMFA-214 is the end of a legacy for the Black Sheep and Marine Aircraft Group-13,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Keith Bucklew, the outgoing commander of VMA-214. “This symbolic event finalizes the sundown for Harriers on the West Coast and closes the chapter on 58 years of attack aircraft operations for the Black Sheep.

“Finishing this mission with a successful 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment is a testament to the viability and performance of the Harrier over the last 33 years and, more importantly, the talent of the Marines who managed them,” added Bucklew. “The AV-8B will be missed in the skies of Yuma, but it is time to transition to the next generation of fighter attack aircraft.”

“The F-35’s fifth-generation strike fighter capability brings more lethality and flexibility to combatant commanders than any other fighter platform,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Christopher Kelly, the commanding officer of VMFA- 214. “The STO/VL capability inherent in the F-35 “B” variant allows the Marine Corps to operate expeditiously and from remote locations, making the model uniquely qualified at supporting expeditionary advanced base operations.”

3rd MAW continues to “Fix, Fly and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing and remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.

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Executive Editor

About this Author

Colton Jones
Colton Jones is technology editor for Defenсe Blog. He has written about emerging technology in military magazines and elsewhere.

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