September 27, 2018 marked one of the most important milestones for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. On that date, the U.S. Marine Corps conducted the first combat strikes by the U.S. military employing the revolutionary fifth-generation fighter. Perhaps equally impressive, this mission in Afghanistan was conducted by the short-takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the JSF, the F-35B, from an amphibious warfare ship. The F-35B allows large deck amphibious warfare ships to undertake missions that until now would have required an aircraft carrier strike group. As a result, the range of force employment options available to theater commanders is significantly expanded. What if the F-35B were proliferated to allied and friendly navies that currently possess ships capable of operating a STOVL aircraft? The impact on the world’s military balance of a global force of nearly forty large naval combatants deploying hundreds of F-35Bs cannot be overestimated. I discuss the implications of such a maritime force here.
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