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Built to win World War III, the F-35 is mostly being used to bomb caves and other stationary targets
The F-35 is built to win wars against China and Russia, but since the United States is not fighting either country at the moment, it's mostly being used to bomb caves and weapons caches — a mission that older and cheaper aircraft can do just as well.
The Marine Corps' F-35B variant flew its first combat mission in September 2018 by dropping two bombs on a weapons cache in Afghanistan. The Air Force's F-35A's combat debut came in April, when two aircraft attacked an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in northeast Iraq.
More recently, F-35s joined F-15s in dropping 80,000 pounds of ordnance on Iraq's Qanus Island, which was "infested" with ISIS fighters, Army Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for U.S. and coalition forces fighting ISIS, tweeted Sept. 10.
"This air strike denied ISIS terrain and hiding areas for smuggling lethal aid and fighters," Caggins told Task & Purpose. "The strikes enabled the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service's ground clearance operation on Qanus Island."
While the targets struck by F-35s in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere may have been thoroughly destroyed, it is worth noting that neither ISIS nor the Taliban possess sophisticated air defense systems, including jet fighters, that require the stealthy F-35 with its suite of advanced sensors to defeat.
Lawmakers are frustrated that the Air Force has not yet asked defense industry to submit proposals for cheap light attack aircraft that could fly combat missions against adversaries that do not have sophisticated air defenses, freeing more advanced aircraft to fight against near-peer enemies.
Such light attack aircraft could have carried out the airstrikes on Qanus Island, especially considering the Government Accountability Office has found there are not enough spare parts to keep F-35s flying often enough "to meet warfighter requirements," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) suggested during Air Force Secretary nominee Barbara Barrett's Sept. 12 confirmation hearing.
"I have real concerns about using fifth-generation aircraft to strike a bunch of terrorists hiding in the bushes," Cotton said at the hearing. "It feels to me like we should be using aircraft that are suitable in an environment in which we have total air dominance and our F-35s and their pilots should be training for high end conflict against adversaries like China."
A spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central Command said a number of factors go into selecting which aircraft will fly missions, including crew rest, maintenance schedules, availability of alternate aircraft, and range and aerial refueling availability.
"The Qanus Island strike was planned and executed just like the missions before, during, and after it," Air Force Lt. Col. Brus Vidal told Task & Purpose.
"The decision to use F-35's that day as part of a larger strike package, which also included F-15E's, was determined to be the most pragmatic, balanced, and effective choice relative to all the considerations that must be synchronized."
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has confirmed that a nightmare scenario has come to pass: Captured ISIS fighters are escaping as a result of Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held northeast Syria.
Turkey's incursion has led to "the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees," Esper said in a statement on Monday.
Video footage of a purported "bombing of Kurd civilians" by Turkish military forces shown on ABC News appeared to be a nighttime firing of tracer rounds at a Kentucky gun range.
The U.S. military's seemingly never-ending mission supporting civil authorities along the southwestern border will last at least another year.
On Sept. 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide a total of up to 5,500 troops along the border until Sept. 30, 2020, Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said on Monday.