The US Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning fighter jet could possibly fly its first combat mission within days, according to several unnamed US defense officials, cited by CNN on September 26th.
The 5th generation fighter jets are currently aboard the amphibious assault ship the USS Essex and should be in position to conduct airstrikes over Afghanistan shortly, according to the unnamed sources.
According to one of the unnamed officials, the USS Essex has already sailed from the Gulf of Aden into the North Arabian Sea and is expected to move into the Persian Gulf in the following days.
As reported by CNN, F-35 pilots have also been conducting intelligence and surveillance missions over Somalia while they’re on standby to provide air support to US troops on the ground in the region. Despite being available for support, the advanced fighter jet was not used in an airstrike over Somalia on Saturday that killed 18 militants after US and local forces came under attack.
In May 2018, Israel Defense Forces said they were using their version of the F-35 in operational missions, striking at least two unspecified targets in the region. The Israeli announcement marked the first time the F-35 had been used in an actual combat situation. It was of significance due to the numerous issues and delays development of the fighter jet has been faced with.
The F-35 fighter jet is dubbed by the US as the future of military aviation. It is “a lethal and versatile aircraft that combines stealth capabilities, supersonic speed, extreme agility and state-of-the-art sensor fusion technology,” according to Lockheed Martin, the plane’s primary contractor.
The F-35B is one of three variations of the F-35 fighter jet, it has the ability for vertical landing, similarly to a helicopter. It also take off from a much shorter space than other fighter jets, that is why it can operate on the Essex, a warship only half the size of the 100,000-ton aircraft carriers in the US fleet, as reported by CNN.
The aircraft, which is the most expensive weapons system in history, has also drawn sharp criticism in recent years after facing a long list of setbacks — including problems with software, engines and weapon systems. And critics have continued to express skepticism about the F-35’s combat capability despite reassurances by US military leaders who say the issues are being worked out.
The US Marine Corps declared its first squadron of F-35s ready for deployment in July 2015. The Air Force said its version of the aircraft was combat ready in August 2016.
According to a recent investigative report by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), 19 issues that could threaten a pilots life and the jet’s operation were downgraded so that the F-35 could go past the development phase. These issues were downgraded without an apparent fix even being in the works.
US President Donald Trump is quite proud of the F-35 fighter jet, calling it “invisible” on numerous occasions. The jet is, of course, not actually invisible, it just has stealth capabilities and is barely detectable by enemy radars.
The South China Morning Post, on September 5th, cited anonymous military sources which claimed that China’s own stealth fighter jet the J-20 is nearing mass production. The jet had engine problems, which have reportedly been fixed.
According to a report on August 30th, by the South China Morning Post, the J-20 stealth fighter jet carried out its first sea training mission. The PLA air force announced on August 29th that the training had taken place, without specifying where or when. The drill was conducted over the sea in “actual war conditions” to “further upgrade the air force’s combat capabilities,” Senior Colonel Shen Jinke said on the official air force microblog. “It will enable the [PLA air force] to better defend national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” he said.