The U.S. Air Force decided to deploy its newest 5th generation fighter jets to the Middle East to support of coalition forces, the Department of Defence said on Monday.
Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings here deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates last week to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East. The aircraft arrived on April 15.
“For those of us who have been a part of the F-35 program for a while, this is a huge milestone,” said 388th FW commander, Col. Lee Kloos, to a group of Airmen gathered in Hill’s Deployment Control Center. “You’re the first. We’re proud of you and we’ll be watching you as you bring this jet’s capabilities to bear in support of our nation’s defense.”
As the first deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, the Airmen are prepared and trained for the AFCENT mission.
“As the first operational F-35 wing in the Air Force we’ve been working toward this since we received our first jets in 2015,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “We have been successful in two Red Flags, we’ve deployed to Europe and to Asia. Our Airmen are ready for this mission.”
The group of Airmen is made up of pilots from the active duty 4th Fighter Squadron and Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen in the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and personnel in other support functions.
For many Airmen, like Staff Sgt. Riley Curry, who have been in the F-35A program their entire career, this is their first deployment. They said getting ready for the deployment was the hard part, but carrying out the mission is second nature.
“It’s a neat to be on our first deployment and part of the first operational F-35A deployment, but we’re going out to do our job – the same one we do here every day,” said Curry, a munitions controller with the 388th Maintenance Squadron.
The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, is America’s most advanced multi-role stealth fighter.
“We are adding a cutting edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”
Because of the stealth and advanced technology designed into the F-35A, it can survive and operate in air space other aircraft cannot. Its ability to gather and pass threat and target information to other platforms, improves lethality, survivability and adaptability of the entire force, leaders say.
“The F-35A provides our nation air dominance in any threat,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. “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,” he stated.