The US command for Central Asia and the Middle East (CENTCOM) announced on April 15, 2019, that F-35A of the United States Air Force had been deployed in the Middle East for the first time.
An unspecified number of Lockheed Martin F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the F-35 joint strike fighter, was deployed in CENTCOM “area of responsibility”. According to the official press release, they were deployed at al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates. The aircraft involved belong to the 388th and 419th Fighter Wing from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
The F-35A could be used for air operations of the US-led anti-jihadist coalition in Iraq and Syria, and could also carry out airstrikes in Afghanistan. “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. CENTCOM. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors”.
Prior to the new deployment, the F-35A has been deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, in April 2017, as well as the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility in the fall of 2017 in Kadena Air Base, Japan.
However, it is not the first time that the airframe has been deployed in the region. In September 2018, the USMC Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 deployed several F-35B, the short take-off vertical landing (STVOL) version of the aircraft, aboard the USS Essex amphibious assault ship. They carried out their first strike in Afghanistan on September 27, 2018, and have carried out over a hundred more since then, both in Afghanistan and in the Levant.