F-35 fighter jets.
(photo credit: STAFF SGT. CHRIS DRZAZGOWSKI/U.S. AIR FORCE)
Two weeks after the United States Air Force (USAF) deployed several F-35 fighter jets to the Middle East, the jets carried out their first combat mission in Iraq against Islamic State targets.
The first American combat sortie of the stealth fighter jet came a day after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in a video for the first time in five years – since he declared the caliphate in a now infamous speech in Mosul.
The USAF said the two F-35As conducted air strikes with a Joint Direct Attack Munition against an Islamic State tunnel network and weapons cache in the Hamrin Mountains in Wadi Ashai, Iraq.
“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” a USAF statement quoted 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35A pilot Lt. Col. Yosef Morris as saying. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR [Areas of Responsibility] contingencies.”
Two weeks ago, an unspecified number of USAF F-35A Lightning IIs landed at the al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, along with maintenance and support personnel from the Active 388th Fighter Wing and Air Force Reserve 419th Fighter Wing based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“We have been successful in two Red Flag exercises, and we’ve deployed to Europe and Asia,” Morris said. “Our airmen are ready, and we’re excited to be here.”
Red Flag is the USAF’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise which includes combat air forces from America and allied nations, including Israel.
While the strikes marked a first for the Americans, it came a year after Israel became the first air force to carry out combat missions in the Middle East using F35Is – its specially retrofitted Adir version.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature allowing them to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400, which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.
With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots of the stealth jet have an unparalleled access to information while in the air.
“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar, and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battle space 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.”
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