The US Air Force carried out its first ever airstrike with the F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter on an ISIS tunnel and weapons cache in Iraq on April 30th.
Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) announced on April 30th that two Lightning II stealth jets were used to conduct an “airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched tunnel network and a weapons cache” belonging to the Islamic State deep in the Hamrin Mountains in northeast Iraq.
The operation, conducted in Wadi Ashai, Iraq, was meant to thwart a buildup of munitions and forces that could threaten coalition fighters in the area, according to an AFCENT news release.
“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 Fighter Squadron 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 contingencies.”
The F-35As were deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah to the Combined Forces Air Component team in the U.S. Central Command area of operations on April 15th.
“The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said at the time of the deployment. “When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the coalition joint force, the interoperable F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role.”
Prior to their first combat mission, the F-35A’s successfully passed two Red Flag exercises.
“We have been successful in two Red Flag exercises, and we’ve deployed to Europe and Asia,” said Morris. “Our Airmen are ready and we’re excited to be here.” Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise which includes U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces.
“This jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician.
“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar, and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battlespace in real time,” said Morris. “Now it has the ability to take that information and share it with other F-35s or even other fourth generation aircraft in the same package that can also see the integrated picture.”
This marked the 3rd deployment of the F-35A, the first two being by Israel and the US Marine Corps.
Israel became the first country to use its F-35s in combat, in May 2018 it was reported that its fifth-generation fighter jets took part in two airstrikes in Syria.
In February 2019, the Marine Corps’ F-35B flew its first mission and bombed Taliban and ISIS targets while deployed on the amphibious assault ship USS Essex.
Earlier in April, it was reported that the Marine Corps were creating “mini” carrier strike groups with the F-35s.
“We’re definitely changing the way amphibs are employed, especially on the blue side — we’re no longer just the trucks that carry Marines that we used to be,” explained Lt. Cmdr. David Mahoney, Amphibious Squadron 1 Operations Officer, USNI News reported.
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