Long-awaited, expensive F-35 jet makes US combat debut

Long-awaited, expensive F-35 jet makes US combat debut

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit , load ordnance into an F-35B Lightning II aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex in preparation for the F-35B's first combat strike on Thursday (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s newest jet fighter, the F-35, took its first action in a U.S. theater of war on Thursday, used to strike a Taliban target in Afghanistan.

“The Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II conducted its first combat strikes in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Sept. 27,” according to a Pentagon news release Thursday.

“The F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander,” it said.

The strike comes 12 years after production of the F-35 began in 2006. Costs of the program vary, but estimates have concurred that it has become the most expensive weapons program in U.S. defense history. The exact target was not disclosed.

The plane has been grounded several times during testing because of a swath of issues.

The Marine Corps’ version of the fighter is the F-35B. It is designed to accommodate short takeoffs and vertical landings. That made it capable of hitting the Taliban target from a ship in the Indian Ocean, which in this instance was USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship.

Development of the F-35 has been supported by several nations who plan to purchase the fighter. They include Turkey, where the sales are in question because of Ankara’s plans to acquire a Russian S-400 air defense system.

Among the nations using the F-35 is Israel. According to news reports, Israeli officials said one of their F-35s made the fighter’s international combat debut in May when Israeli pilots conducted an operational strike in Syria.

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