The British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) F-35B Lightning II combat aircraft have performed their maiden operational missions over the skies of Syria and Iraq.
The F-35Bs, the UK’s newest advanced fighter jets, flew out of RAF Akrotiri to take part in sorties alongside Typhoon aircraft. They supported ongoing operations against the terrorist organisation Islamic State (ISIS).
The combat debut marks a significant milestone for the UK’s F-35B plans, which include combining the jets with aircraft carriers to deliver a globally deployable carrier strike capability.
According to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), the F-35Bs participated in a total of 13 operational sorties in support of Operation Shader, the UK contribution to the ongoing international fight against ISIS.
Prior to the first operational deployment, the F-35 fighter aircraft underwent a training period in Cyprus, known as Exercise Lightning Dawn.
Satisfied with the performance of the aircraft, pilots, and support staff during the training period, the RAF went ahead with the first operational missions.
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UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “The F-35s are the most advanced jets our country has ever possessed and will form the backbone of British air defence for decades to come.
“They have passed every test their training has thrown at them with flying colours and their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the UK.”
The F-35 has stealth technology and supersonic speeds. The Lockheed Martin-built aircraft can perform short take-offs and vertical landings and has the ability to operate from land and sea.
RAF Chief of the Air Staff air chief marshal Stephen Hillier said: “This first operational mission for the UK’s F-35 Lightning confirms the impressive progress, which we have made in introducing this formidable new capability into service.
“It is testament to the outstanding abilities of our dedicated and highly trained air and ground crew that 617 Squadron has achieved this important milestone so quickly and so effectively.”
Currently, the UK owns a fleet of 17 F-35B aircraft and plans to acquire 138 aircraft over the course of the programme.