The Air Force’s F-35As could fly combat missions during their first deployment to the Middle East
The Air Force’s variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to fly combat operations if needed, a defense official said on Monday.
“They were already scheduled to come out here for an exercise,” the defense official told Task & Purpose. “But they are operational, so when or if they get called to get on an ATO [air tasking order], they will be on one.”
While Marine Corps F-35Bs flew more than 100 combat sorties against ISIS and the Taliban last year, this is the first time that Air Force F-35As have deployed to the CENTCOM theater of operations.
Their arrival comes nearly a month after ISIS lost its last enclave in Syria.
The F-35As come from the active-duty 388th and reserve 491th Fighter Wings based out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
An AFCENT spokeswoman declined to specify exactly how many of the aircraft are now in theater, citing operational security concerns.
“This is a rotational deployment,” said Maj. Holly Brauer. “They are going to be participating in some exercises coming up. It’s a usual rotation.”
The F-35 is meant to be able to operate within the world’s deadliest air space, such as within the range of Russian or Chinese air defense systems. In addition to being stealthy, F-35s have a suite of sensors that allows them to detect enemies in the air and on the ground much further away than older U.S. aircraft.
But the F-35 program has run into cost overruns, problems, and lengthy delays that have forced the U.S. military to fly their legacy aircraft much longer than originally intended.
Nearly two decades since the program began, every F-35 variant remains beset by technical glitches. …read more
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