The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter successfully carried out its first-ever combat airstrike in Afghanistan on Thursday morning, according to a report by the Military Times.
A Marine F-35B “Lightning II” took off from the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Essex and conducted an airstrike against a fixed Taliban target in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
The Marines issued a statement to confirm the success of the strike, and said that it was conducted in “support of ground clearance operations.”
Prior to starting its operations in Afghanistan, the Essex was deployed for surveillance and intelligence operations in Somalia, according to CNN.
As a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-35 is considered the most expensive weapons systems in the history of the U.S. military. According to the Government Accountability Office, the joint strike fighter is “projected to cost about $1 trillion to develop, produce, field and sustain over its lifetime,” per the Military Times report.
The F-35B is from the Marine Strike Fighter Attack Squadron 211 based on the USS Essex as part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
Commenting on its capabilities, Vice Adm. Scott Stearney of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said that that the F-35B presents a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy.
“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,” he added, as quoted by the Military Times.
The F-35s are lauded by proponents for having advanced stealth technology, supersonic speeds, close air support capabilities, airborne agility, a massive array of sensors giving pilots unparalleled access to information, network-enabled operations, advanced logistics and sustainment, an AFP report states.
According to CNN‘s report, President Donald Trump considers the F-35 his favorite, and has praised the aircraft several times for being “invisible.”
— U.S. Marines (@USMC) September 27, 2018
In April, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter flew its final test flight, bringing a successful end to the development phase of the program – 11 years after the aircraft first took off in 2006.
Earlier this year, the Marine Corps lost its first F-35 after it erupted into flames because of a faulty bracket issue, per a report by the Maine Corps Times. Owing to the high costs, the Marines decided not to repair the damaged aircraft as it wouldn’t have been worth the return on investment.
While the U.S. has used the aircraft in combat for the first time, Israel used it in Syria earlier this year.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts,” Israel’s Air Force Chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin declared at a conference in Israel, as quoted in a report published by the Independent.