After years of anticipation, the Department of Defense has officially sent the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into combat for the first time.
- A Marine Corps F-35B variant from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, currently embarked aboard the USS Essex, conducted its first air strike on Thursday in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan, officials announced.
- The strike was carried out against a "fixed Taliban target," according to CNN, which first reported news of the operation ahead of the official DoD announcement. The Pentagon characterized the operation as a strike "in support of ground clearance operations."
- "The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy," U.S. Naval Forces Central Command chief Vice Adm. Scott Stearney said in a statement. "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."
- According to the DoD, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first combat-deployed MEU to completely replace its fleet of AV-8B Harriers with the F-35B. The 13th MEU is currently part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, which initially deployed to the Pacific back in July before rolling up in the Middle East in September.
- The long-troubled F-35 first saw combat back in May when the Israeli Air Force deployed F-35A fighters for air strikes against unspecified targets.