A squadron of F-35 fighters from the 388th and 419th fighter wings at Hill Air Force Base in Utah deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on May 20, the 388th said in a release Monday.
The deployment of pilots from the 421st Fighter Squadron, as well as maintainers from the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, marks the third time in about 12 months that F-35s from Hill’s 388th and 419th have deployed for combat in the Middle East, the 388th said. There are 78 F-35s stationed at Hill.
The fighters’ early-morning departure May 20 was noticed by several in the area around Hill, and the 388th acknowledged in a tweet it was their fighters, though the wing did not say at the time where they were headed. “We can say that we won’t be taking off that early again anytime soon,” the 388th said.
The 421st received its first F-35 in December 2018, and finished being stood up a year later.
Sending the 421st on its first deployment after its stand-up “demonstrates the readiness of our airmen, our weapons system, and the importance of both to the Air Force and our national defense mission," 388th commander Col. Steven Behmer said in the release. "On top of that, add in prepping and training in this challenging coronavirus environment. As leaders, we couldn’t be more proud of our airmen.”
The deployed squadron also contains reserve pilots and maintainers from the 466th Fighter Squadron and 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, as well as other support personnel.
Hill previously sent the 34th Fighter Squadron to Al Dhafra in November for a six-month deployment, and began bringing some of its airmen home three weeks ago. A large portion of the 34th still remains in the Middle East, but is expected to return to Hill soon.
The 34th performed missions including close-air support, offensive and defensive counter-air, and maritime escort, which helped deter adversaries in the region, Hill said. For three months during that deployment, the 34th also operated simultaneously from two bases and took part in multinational exercises with allies.
Hill said that the 421st’s mission will likely be similar to the role played by the 34th.
Members of the 388th and 419th also wrapped up another six-month deployment to Al Dhafra last November.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.