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Marines send F-35B on first combat strike

The aircraft conducted an air strike to support ground clearance operations in Afghanistan.

By Stephen Carlson
Marines send F-35B on first combat strike
An F-35B Lightning II aircraft, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launches aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex as part of the F-35B's first combat strike on Sept. 27, 2018. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Freeman/U.S. Navy

Sept. 27 (UPI) -- The Marine Corps' F-35B Lightning II has conducted its first combat strike, a ground clearance operation to support Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan.

The F-35B launched an airstrike for ground clearance operations on Thursday, which was deemed effective by commanders on the ground.

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"The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy," Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement.

"As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security," Stearney said.

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The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first combat-deployed Marine unit to replace the venerable AV-8B Harrier with the F35B Lightning II stealth fighter.

The F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 are stationed on the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group.

The F-35 is a 5th-generation multi-role stealth fighter that is being acquired by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to replace and supplement much of their air fleets. Partner nations such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and others are participating in the program.

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Three different variants are being produced to meet each service's and international customer's needs and is expected to enter full service and production over the next several years. Israel has already sent the F-35I on combat missions.

The F-35B is the vertical take-off and landing version designed for Marine Corps use off of amphibious assault carriers like the Wasp. It is anticipated to fully replace the decades-old Harrier by 2025.

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