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The F-35 ‘Combat Debut’ In Afghanistan

September 27, 2018 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter has successfully conducted its first combat mission over Afghanistan on Thursday morning.

USAF F-35A #07-0744 drops a small diameter bomb during weapons tests. This weapons test was one in a series of tests performed with the F35’s latest 3F software. Over the 31 calendar day 'surge' period, the team accomplished 30 weapon releases (live fires and separations). [Lockheed Martin photo by Chad Bellay]

The strikes, carried out by F-35Bs assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, occurred against a fixed target “in support of ground clearance operations,” and were deemed a success by the ground force commander, according to a statement put out by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command on Thursday afternoon.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 made history earlier this month as they became the first squadron with F-35Bs to deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of operations aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Essex.

Although the Marine Corps is the first U.S. service to fly its joint strike fighters in combat, the aircraft has been used by the Israeli air force to strike targets. On May 22 2018, Israel's Air force commander, Major General Amikam Norkin, reported that Israel became the first country in the world to use the F-35 "Adir" fighters in combat during clashes with Iran in Syria.

The Marine Corps declared the F-35B operational in 2015, becoming the first service to integrate the joint strike fighter into its fleet. The Air Force followed by declaring initial operational capability for the F-35A conventional variant in 2016, while the Navy plans to declare IOC on the F-35C carrier variant in February 2019.

The joint strike fighter is the most expensive program in the Pentagon’s history, projected to cost about $1 trillion to develop, produce, field and sustain over its lifetime, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The F-35B is the short takeoff, vertical landing variant of the aircraft, allowing the pilot to hover and land vertically like a helicopter — a necessity for the Marines, which typically operate from amphibious ships with smaller decks than aircraft carriers.

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    Additional images:

    One of the first Israeli F-35s banking load overhead. [Photo by Xnir]