Marines’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Conducts First-Ever Combat Mission with Strike in Afghanistan

September 27, 2018 1:53 PM - Updated: September 27, 2018 3:05 PM
U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), stage ordnance before loading it into an F-35B Lightning II aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in preparation for the F-35B’s first combat strike, Sept. 27, 2018. US Marine Corps photo.

This post has been updated to include additional information from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

The Marine Corps’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has conducted its first-ever combat strike, completing a mission in Afghanistan today in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

The jets “conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander,” according to a U.S. Marine Corps news release.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command confirmed to USNI News that the F-35Bs typically fly in pairs.

“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in the release.
“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.”

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rey White, an aviation boatswains mate handler with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), launches an F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), before the F-35B’s first combat strike, Sept. 27, 2018. US Marine Corps photo.

USNI News had previously reported that the Essex ARG was the only source of naval strike aviation in all of U.S. Central Command, with the F-35Bs being the ARG’s sole strike aircraft. If a combat mission were to arise for the Navy/Marine team, it would be these F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, operating in the air combat element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

Amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) chopped into CENTCOM with its Joint Strike Fighters in early September – the only capital ship in the region since the Iwo Jima ARG departed in mid-July.

NAVCENT confirmed to USNI News that Essex is currently operating in the Arabian Sea, putting the F-35Bs in a strategic location to take on the strike mission in Afghanistan. NAVCENT told USNI News there was no intentional decision made to have the planes’ first combat mission be in any particular location, but rather their current location and CENTCOM’s taskings led to this first-ever combat strike occurring in Afghanistan.

“The opportunity for us to be the first Navy, Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies, and our partners,” Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU, said in the news release.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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