The US Air Force’s (USAF) F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) has deployed laser-guided weapons for the first time at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR).
The munitions were employed from the aircraft by personnel from USAF’s 388th and 419th fighter wings squadrons.
The mission was aimed at verifying accuracy and reliability of the aircraft, providing valuable data to ensure a safe, secure and effective performance during combat missions.
USAF 34th Fighter Squadron commander lieutenant colonel George Watkins said: "This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment.
"The pilots and weapons loaders in the 388th and 419th fighter wings are perfecting their skills not only to prove aircraft capabilities, but they’ll also be the Airmen called upon to take the F-35 to combat, whenever that call may come."
Previously, USAF has attempted similar missions in test environments.
In March this year, the F-35 pilots will commence the flight in four-ship formations.
The USAF is expected to declare initial operational capability (IOC) for the fleet by December this year following an operational deployment test that will assert the aircraft’s capability to deploy.
The F-35 Lightning II JSF development is scheduled to be completed in 2017, while the programme executors are plugging the various fixes.
The aircraft currently has 419 deficiencies to be corrected while 700 to 800 deficiencies have already been addressed.
In its budget proposal for financial year 2017, the USAF has decided to take a cut in the programme, by reducing the procurement of F35As by five aircraft.
Image: An F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter drops a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb at the Utah Test and Training Range. Photo: US Air Force photo / Jim Haseltine.