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U.S. Air Force F-35As conduct first combat employment

A photo of an F-35A Lightning II refueling.

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019. The KC-10 and its crew were tasked to support aerial refueling operations for the F-35A's first air interdiction during its inaugural deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of a boom operator.

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender boom operator refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019. The KC-10 and its crew were tasked to support aerial refueling operations for the F-35A's first air interdiction during its inaugural deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of an F-35A Lighting II

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II prepares to connect with a KC-10 Extender during an aerial refueling mission above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019. The mission marked the F-35A's first air interdiction during its inaugural deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of an F-35A Lightning II.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxis down the flightline before taking off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019. The F-35A is deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in the Air Force’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of an F-35A Lighting II.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019. The F-35A is deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in the Air Force’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

SOUTHWEST ASIA --

Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on April 30.

This strike marked the F-35A’s first combat employment.

The F-35As conducted the airstrike using a Joint Direct Attack Munition to strike an entrenched Daesh tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains, a location able to threaten friendly forces.

“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35A pilot. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR contingencies.”

The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the U.S. Central Command area of operations on April 15. This marks the F-35A’s third deployment and first to the CENTCOM AOR. In preparation for deployment, crews prepared and trained on the aircraft for the AFCENT mission.

“We have been successful in two Red Flag exercises, and we’ve deployed to Europe and Asia,” said Morris. “Our Airmen are ready and we’re excited to be here.” Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise which includes U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces.

There are many Airmen ensuring the planes are ready for their combat missions.

“This jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions,” said Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons technician.

A central tenant to the F-35A’s design is its ability to enhance other battlefield assets. In this case, the aircraft joins the Combined Joint airpower team already in place to maintain air superiority and deliver war-winning airpower. 

“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar, and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battlespace 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.”