US Marine Corps Lockheed Martin F-35Bs made their combat debut on September 27 as VMFA-211 ‘Avengers’ struck targets in Afghanistan under Operation ‘Freedom’s Sentinel’.
VMFA-211 entered the US Central Command and US Fifth Fleet area of operations for the first time in late August. The Lightning IIs are embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) as part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The 5th Fleet’s area of operations includes the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and parts of the Indian Ocean.
The 13th MEU began a two-week Theater Amphibious Combat Rehearsal (TACR) off the coast of Djibouti on September 8. The F-35Bs took off from the USS Essex as it was operating in the in the Arabian Sea for the first combat strike, which was against a fixed Taliban target.
Footage showed the aircraft being loaded with GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and carrying their externally-mounted General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod.
‘The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,’ said VADM Scott Stearney, commander, US Naval Forces Central command. ‘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.’
‘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,’ said Col Chandler Nelms, 13th MEU commander.
T and launched an attack on a reportedly fixed Taliban target using an undisclosed weapon.