The U.S. may send its most expensive weapon system into combat in the coming weeks, according to Pentagon officials who spoke to CNN.
The Marine Corps version of the stealth Lightning II – the F-35B, which has short takeoff/vertical landing capabilities – is aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex and will soon be in position to conduct missions in Afghanistan, including airstrikes.
The Essex has been in the Middle East for several weeks, CNN said, and the Marines have used the jet in intelligence and reconnaissance operations over Somalia but not in combat. If the F-35s do see action over Afghanistan, it will be a first for the U.S. but not for the program overall. Israel claims the honor of flying the jet in combat first, using its version of the F-35A to conduct airstrikes back in May.