The U.S. Air Force has sent F-35A Joint Strike Fighters on their first-ever operational deployment to the Middle East.
- Joseph Trevithick
The arrival of stealthy fighter jets to the region comes after the service decided to pull its F-22 Raptor stealth fighters from the region for the first time in years. It also follows a successful first combat outing for Marine F-35Bs, which involved strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as sorties in Afghanistan against the Taliban.
An unspecified number of F-35As touched down at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, an important base for the United States in the region, on Apr. 15, 2019, according to an official press release. The aircraft, as well as maintenance and support personnel, came from both the active duty 388th Fighter Wing and the Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing, both of which are based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The two units began making their way to the Middle East last week, according to another official news item. In November 2018, they had also taken part in a massive readiness exercise, or “Elephant Walk,” involving 35 F-35As taking off in rapid succession.
“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition [fighting ISIS],” U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT), said in a statement. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”
The Air Force has previously deployed the F-35A operationally to Europe and the Pacific region, but they did not take part in any active conflicts in those theaters. The service said it had reached initial operational capability with the type in 2016. …