F-35 makes its combat debut with Afghanistan strikes
The US has sent the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into combat for the first time, CNN reported Sept. 27, 2018, citing defense officials.
A Marine Corps F-35B, launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, conducted an airstrike in support of ground clearance operations on a fixed Taliban target in Afghanistan Sept. 27, 2018, according to a statement from US Naval Forces Central Command. The Essex arrived in the Middle East in early September 2018, with the onboard F-35s being deployed for intelligence and surveillance operations in Somalia prior to operations in Afghanistan.
CNN's Sept. 27, 2018 report follows an earlier post from Sept. 25, 2018, indicating that the F-35 could be deployed for combat within the next few days. In the aftermath of a US F-35's first combat mission, the Marine Corps released a video on Twitter showing the plane taking off from and landing on the Essex.
"The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy," Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement, "As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security."
The most expensive weapons system in the history of the US military, the F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter that has faced extensive criticism as numerous setbacks have hindered its deployment. The F-35B is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, giving it the ability to be deployed from assault ships like the Essex, which is smaller than modern aircraft carriers.
The first reported F-35 combat mission was carried out by Israel in May 2018, when Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35A fighters participated in strikes on unspecified targets.
The Marine Corps variant — the F-35B — was the first to be declared combat ready. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni became the first overseas base to operate the F-35 in 2017.
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