The Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet has, for the first time, been deployed to the Middle East.
U.S. Air Forces Central Command said in a release that F-35A Lightning IIs from the 388th Fighter Wing and the 419th Fighter Wing, both at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates Monday.
The F-35′s arrival comes a little more than a month after B-1B Lancer bombers completed their deployment at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which left the Air Force with no bomber presence in the Middle East. The joint strike fighters will bolster the Air Force’s firepower in the region as the coalition carries out airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and scattered remnants of the Islamic State.
Think of the F-35 as the “quarterback of the joint team," and not simply another stealth fighter, the Air Force chief of staff said Tuesday.
“We are adding a cutting-edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of AFCENT, in the release. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”
The F-35A is a stealth fighter with an advanced sensor package that was designed to replace aging air frames such as the F-16 and A-10. The Air Force said it is designed to fuse, integrate and share data with other assets on the battlefield.
“The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said in the release. “When it comes to having a quarterback for the coalition joint force, the inter-operable F-35A is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role.”
AFCENT spokeswoman Maj. Holly Brauer declined to specify how many F-35As had been deployed to Al Dhafra, as well as the number of airmen present to support the deployment.
She also would not confirm whether the aircraft will take part on missions on behalf of Operation Inherent Resolve.
“During their deployment, the Airmen will fly operational and other missions as assigned,” she said. “Consistent with operations security, we will not discuss employment details in advance. The F-35A and their crews will bring the advanced capabilities to the CENTCOM commander’s wide range of options.”
In 2017, the fifth-generation fighter also deployed to RAF-Lakenheath in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.
The 388th is an active-duty wing, and the 419th is a reserve wing.
Defense News’ Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.