(MENAFN- Gulf Times) The US military yesterday launched vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) F-35Bs from the deck of the USS Wasp amphibious carrier in the waters around Okinawa in its first show of stealth aircraft force at sea.
The exercise comes at a time when concerns remain high over North Korea's nuclear programme, although regional tension has eased in recent weeks, coinciding with the North's participation in the Winter Olympics held in South Korea last month.
'This is a historic deployment. For the first time we take a marine stealth fighter F-35B. We pair it with a navy amphibious ship, Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the US Navy's Expeditionary Strike Group 7, told reporters.
'And together this represents what I believe is the most significant lead in war fighting capability of our life time...
It gives us more ability to underscore peace, security and stability in this region.
During the training, an F-35B fighter took off after running just 100 metres or so on the deck, and when it came back with its jet engine roaring, the aircraft hovered over the ship once, and then began its slow, vertical descent.
It is capable of a vertical, as well as short takeoff.
In November, the United States deployed 16 F-35Bs to its Marine Corps base in Iwakuni, western Japan.
The refurbished Wasp moved to its base in Sasebo on Japan's major southwestern island of Kyushu in January to replace the amphibious carrier that was deployed there.
While the US Air Force version of the F-35 is already flying from bases in Japan, the addition of the F-35B to replace ageing Harrier jump jets marks a significant upgrade to US marine force capability around the East China Sea, where China is also bolstering its military.
China already has one operational aircraft carrier, the second-hand Soviet-era Liaoning bought from Ukraine in 1998, and is carrying out tests on its first indigenously built carrier, launched last year and expected to enter service in 2020.
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