The Navy’s Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left San Diego on June 10 with three ships, and is projected to carry out a deployment to the western Pacific and the Middle East. And they’re bringing something else with them too: Marine Corps F-35Bs, which are leaving on their first deployment with a stateside unit.

“The Essex Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit got underway from San Diego, Tuesday,” Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown said in a Thursday statement to United States Naval Institute News.

Further details about the nature of the deployment were not released due to operational security concerns.

The big deck amphibious assault ship Essex, amphibious transport dock Anchorage and dock landing ship Rushmore departed with a squadron of Marine F-35B Lighting II joint strike fighters from the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the official confirmed to USNI.

The Marine F-35Bs first deployment has been well anticipated in the weeks of training leading up to the ship-out date. Previous reporting by the Marine Corps Times shed light on the air platform’s ability to support the MEU’s duties of engagement in humanitarian disasters, maritime incidents and potential combat operations.

The F-35B has been controversial from its inception largely in part due to its hefty $100 million price tag and inconsistent performance reviews. However, its updated technology adds much needed capabilities to the ARG/MEU. Most of the Marines’ strike inventory is comprised of the 30-plus-year-old AV-8B Harrier II.

“With the new aircraft, we want to be able to capitalize on all the capability that aircraft has to bear, like multi-functional data links, how do we get that information from that airplane to the ship, so we can use it,” Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and commodore of the Essex ARG, said in February. “That also gives me additional command-and-control capability.”

Neil is a former US Army Captain and served operational deployments in South Korea and Afghanistan. He is currently an Editorial Fellow at the Military Times.

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