USAF F-35s Deploy to the Middle East for the First Time

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxis down the runway at Al Dhafra AB, United Arab Emirates, April 15, 2019. The F-35A Lightning II is deployed to the Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in USAF history. Air Force photo by SrA. Mya M. Crosby.

Air Force F-35As deployed to the Middle East for the first time on Monday, arriving in the United Arab Emirates for combat operations across the region.

An undisclosed number of F-35s, assigned to the Active Duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill AFB, Utah, are operating from Al Dhafra Air Base, the same location that recently hosted F-22s.

“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of Air Forces Central Command, said in a release. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggression.”

This is the first deployment to CENTCOM for USAF F-35s, which previously deployed to Europe in April 2017 and the Pacific in the fall of 2017. US Marine Corps F-35Bs deployed to the Middle East aboard the USS Essex last fall.

The multi-role F-35As will provide air dominance as a “quarterback” for the coalition, USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a release.

“We look forward to demonstrating the full range of the F-35A’s capabilities while it increases the interoperability of our forces throughout the region,” Guastella said.

The deployment comes as US and coalition air operations have drawn down as part of the anti-ISIS fight in Iraq and Syria, though strikes have stayed steady in Afghanistan.