F-35 refuelling over Middle East

THE USAF F-35 HAS FLOWN IN COMBAT FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force has finally flown the F-35 in combat, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command (U.S. AFCENT) stated in a press release. Two F-35As – the variant used by the USAF – conducted a mission over Iraq this week to take out an ISIS tunnel network and a weapons cache on April 30, 2019.

U.S. Air Force's F-35A performs first sortie during Middle East deployment
An USAF F-35A Lightning II sits under a sunshade before the first combat mission April 26, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Staff Sgt. Christopher Thornbury – USAF

Last year in September the U.S. Marine Corps was the 1st U.S. Service to fly its F-35B’s in combat, after the Israeli Air Force F-35As had seen combat for the first time in 2 airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East in May 2018.

The U.S. Air Force’s 5th gen multi-role jet arrived for its 1st deployment to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on April 15, 2019. One month after B-1B Lancer bombers completed their deployment at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

The U.S. Air Force’s 5th generation multi-role aircraft arrived for its first deployment to the Middle East on April 15, 2019. Video: USAF / U.S. ARMED FORCES on YouTube

The airstrike occurred at Wadi Ashai, in northeast Iraq. In a news release on April 24, U.S. AFCENT stated that ISIS fighters “have been attempting to move munitions, equipment and personnel” to Wadi Ashai in order to “set conditions for their resurgence,” prompting a counter-offensive by Iraqi Security Forces and supported by Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

U.S. AFCENT‘s Tweet on Twitter

“The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces,” U.S. AFCENT said.

Whether the strikes were successful, was not made available in the release.

USAF F-35A Pilot in UAE
An F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron dons an anti-gravity suit in preparation for the first combat sortie in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility on April 26, 2019, Al Dhafra AB, United Arab Emirates.
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford – USAF

An USAF airstrike using the F-35A has been widely anticipated for weeks, after the service deployed the fighter jet to the UAE. It’s not clear how many F-35s are now operating in the Middle East, but all jets are from the 388th FW and the 419th FW, based at Hill AFB in Utah.

USAF F-35 in UAE
An F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron passes gear to a 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief after running system checks on the aircraft on April 26, 2019 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The aircraft is deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in U.S. Air Force history.
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford – USAF

The F-35 is praised for the utility of the aircraft’s high-end sensor suite and computers in a combat environment.

“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th FS commander and F-35A pilot. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR (Area of Responsibility) contingencies.”

Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician, also said; “this jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions.”

A USAF KC-10 Extender refuels an F-35A Lightning II on April 30, 2019 somewhere in the skies over the Middle East. The location is undisclosed. Photo: Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski – USAF

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(Top photo: Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski – USAF)

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