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