A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B made the first-ever combat sortie of any variant of the jet in Afghanistan on Thursday, a day before a different F-35B suffered a program-first crash in South Carolina.
The combat strike was in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The F-35 air strike was in support of ground clearance operations and the Navy said the ground force commander deemed it a success.
The F-35B is part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the first combat-deployed MEU that replaced AB-8B Harriers with F-35Bs. This MEU includes F-35Bs from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, which are embarked on the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2), within the Essex Amphibious Ready Group.
U.S. Navy video of F-35B From USS Essex Conducts Its 1st Combat Strike
"The opportunity for us to be the first Navy, Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies, and our partners,” Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU, said in a statement.
The commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, praised the aircraft, saying “the F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy.”
Separately, an F-35B crashed in coastal South Carolina on Friday. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s office released a statement that a military plane crash was reported around 11:45a.m. The office confirmed the pilot safely ejected and was taken to a medical facility for evaluation.
The Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 trains F-35B pilots and operates out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in the area.
MCAS later released a statement that at around 11:45 a.m. a 2D Marine Aircraft Wing F-35B “impacted” in Beaufort County. It confirmed the pilot ejected safely and is being examined by medical personnel.