U.S. Air Force F-35 stealth fighters for the first time have deployed for combat.
At least six F-35s from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings on April 12, 2019 traveled from their home station at Hill Air Force Base in Utah to Al Dhafra airbase in the United Arab Emirates to participate in coalition air operations targeting Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
"We are adding a cutting-edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition," said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. "The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors."
Air Force F-35As in April 2017 deployed to Royal Air Force base Lakenheath. USAF F-35As that fall also deployed to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility. The Middle East deployment is the USAF stealth fighter's first to a war zone.
The F-35s could fill the gap that the Air Force's F-22 Raptors left when in February 2019 they departed the Middle East after five years of continuous operations. Older, non-stealthy F-15C fighters stood in for the radar-evading F-22s as the Pentagon's main air-superiority fighters in the region.