The U.S. Air Force has deployed its another squadron equipped with advanced F-35 stealth, 5th generation fighters on a combat deployment to the Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, according to a recent service news release.
The deployment comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States, and F-35s based at Al Dhafra are ideally located to engage high-value targets from nuclear facilities to airbases across Iranian territory.
A squadron of F-35s is already deployed to the region alongside a smaller unit of heavier F-22 Raptors based in Qatar, just two of several air units recently stationed within range of Iranian territory alongside F-15E Strike Eagles, B-52H Stratofortress heavy bombers and other assets.
The U.S. Military is currently deploying 3,000 new personnel to Saudi Arabia alongside high-end air defence systems, and with Iran increasing uranium enrichment and its officials threatening to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, it has been speculated that a preventative strike is under consideration in Washington.
While F-35s and B-52s are capable of carrying ordinance heavy enough to neutralize most targets, the Air Force in May conducted a prolific test for GBU-57 massive ordnance penetrators capable of neutralising more heavily fortified facilities and subsequently placed considerable orders to expand its inventory. These are deployed from B-2 Spirit bombers, which are capable of reaching targets across Iran from bases on the U.S. mainland. While the F-35 is far from fully combat-ready, its surveillance capabilities alone make it a valuable asset – and the opportunity to operate the platform so near enemy territory could provide valuable experience. Risks nevertheless remain when deploying such aircraft, with Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal capable of striking American military bases across the Middle East, neutralising runways and destroying billions of dollars worth of hardware.
“For the second time this year, Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings here deployed F-35A Lighting IIs into combat,” the Air Force message states.
The 34thFighter Squadron departed Hill last week for Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, to support the United States Air Force Central Command mission in the Middle East. The aircraft recently arrived in the country.
“I’m extremely proud of all of our Airmen in the 388th and 419th fighter wings,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388thFighter Wing commander. “Both they and this platform are absolutely ready for this short-notice tasking, bringing the unique combat capabilities of the F-35A to the fight.”
The group of Airmen is made up of pilots from the active duty 34th Fighter Squadron and Reserve 466th Fighter Squadron, as well as active duty and Reserve Airmen in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, and personnel in other support functions.
“Our maintainers and operators have had a lot of opportunities over the past year to operate together in off-station environments. From simultaneous operating locations across the globe to the 24-aircraft, 3-month deployment to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. We are ready.” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “We’ve become close as a team and are willing and able to fill this combat tasking. Our training has been purposeful and we’re going to support combatant commanders with the largest F-35A combat deployment to date.”
The F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, provides greater operational capability by combining advanced stealth capabilities with the latest weapons technology.
The 4th Fighter Squadron returned to Hill two weeks ago from a 6-month deployment to Al Dhafra. It was the Air Force’s first F-35A combat deployment. The Airmen supported the United States Air Force Central Command Mission in the region. They performed various missions, including close air support and regional deterrence against aggressors. They also participated in multi-national exercises, strengthening partnerships and improving interoperability.
The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35 units, maintaining the jets in a Total Force partnership that utilizes the strengths of both components.