The F-35 'Combat Debut' In Afghanistan Consisted Of 2 Bombs Destroying A Weapons Cache

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I got a little bit more out of the military public affairs types on the recent "combat debut" of the F-35B in Afghanistan, and it turns out the $115 million stealth aircraft was used to obliterate a static cache of enemy weaponry.


Now, I originally intended to use this column to criticize the U.S. Marine Corps for putting together what appeared to be a big, taxpayer-funded PR stunt. Indeed, my inbox was inundated with press releases, photos, and video from the strike that the service clearly wanted (and subsequently got) covered in the media.

However, it's not really the Marine Corps' decision to drop bombs in theater. Personnel at U.S. Central Command are the ultimate authority on what kind of aircraft are used in its area of responsibility, and a spokesman told me that this wasn't a one-time thing: The squadron involved is now "in the rotation" with other platforms to hit targets in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Still, the F-35B in question was launched from a ship somewhere in the Arabian Sea (roughly a 1,000 mile one-way trip) to hit a static target on the ground. According to Navy Cmdr. Grant Neeley, a U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman, the target was a mined weapons cache that ground forces were unable to clear. The ground force commander then called in an air strike, and he received two: A GBU-12 (cost: $19,000+) and a GBU-32 JDAM (cost: $22,000).

So why the hell is a super-expensive, fifth-generation, stealth-with-all-the-bells-and-whistles aircraft being used to drop bombs presumably on a bunch of AK-47's and RPGs?

Perhaps I sound like an old man yelling at a cloud here, but using the world's most expensive aircraft to kill a bunch of guns on the ground doesn't seem like the best use of taxpayer money. That's not to mention the fact this particular aircraft, with a range just over 1,000 miles, probably had to get aerial refueling on the way in and on the way out.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of manned and unmanned aircraft at Bagram Air Field and other sites in Afghanistan. For a target as insignificant as this, a Predator drone would've done just fine, or perhaps it could've been punted to an Afghan Air Force pilot. Lord knows they need the practice.

On the same day the strike took place, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan implored his department to "work at all levels to find ways to save time [and money]" in a post on Twitter.

Sir, I think I found one.

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Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.

In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.

A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.

The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.

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