F-35 makes first combat strike and hits Taliban target in Afghanistan

On Thursday in Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter aircraft carried out its first combat mission and airstrike.

The F-35B Lightning II aircraft of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit successfully struck a stationary Taliban target as a part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, according to an official U.S. Naval Forces Central Command statement on Thursday.

“During this mission the F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander,” the statement said.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and their Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 became the first squadron to deploy F-35Bs, replacing their AV-8B Harrier. The squadron is currently assisting the USS Essex and its Essex Amphibious Ready Group.

“The opportunity for us to be the first Navy, Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies, and our partners,” Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU, told Military Times.

The F-35 is considered one of the most expensive weapons systems ever, with the program’s projected cost at $1 trillion. The joint strike fighter features stealth abilities, supersonic speed, agile maneuverability, and high-tech sensor fusion features, as CNN reported. The F-35 has three variants, and only the F-35B variant can land vertically such as a helicopter.

The F-35B is able to take off from a shorter runway than average fighter aircraft, making it a compatible option for the USS Essex, with a runway about half the size of a standard aircraft carrier.

“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” said Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

The Marine Corps was the first branch to integrate the F-35B in 2015, while the Air Force integrated the F-35A variant in 2016. The F-35C variant is scheduled to be integrated into the Navy in Feb. 2019.

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