Air Force F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have patrolled the skies of the Middle East continuously for the past 16 months, dropping bombs on the remnants of the Islamic State group and testing new tactics that will shape how the Joint Strike Fighter is used in the future.
The 34th Fighter Squadron’s deployment to the region from October 2019 to June 2020 checked off a lot of firsts for the F-35A, including the type’s first short-notice deployment and the first time the jet practiced agile combat employment—operating from both its home base of Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and a small forward-deployed location.
“We proved that with the F-35 we can carry out a variety of mission sets. The requirements in CENTCOM go from close air support, all the way to opposed offensive and defensive counter-air and maritime support in the swing of a single day,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron, in a statement to Air Force Magazine. “You have to be ready for everything. We were doing everything from strafing in close air support, which wouldn’t normally compute in your brain with the capabilities a fifth-generation fighter brings, to running maritime escort for Carrier Strike Groups in the span of a single day.” (end of excerpt)
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