For the first time, the U.S. Air Force is deploying the world’s most advanced fighter to the Middle East to participate in combat operations. While Marine Corps F-35Bs have already participated in combat operations over Afghanistan, this deployment marks the first outing for the Air Force’s F-35A iteration of the platform.

The first F-35As reached Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, completing their long journey from the 388th and the 419th Fighter Wings, both out of Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

“We are adding a cutting-edge weapons system to our arsenal that significantly enhances the capability of the coalition,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph T. Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command. “The sensor fusion and survivability this aircraft provides to the joint force will enhance security and stability across the theater and deter aggressors.”

Air Force F-35s have been deployed to the Middle East
A 380th Air Expeditionary Maintenance Group crew chief meets an F-35A Lightning II’s pilot at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 15, 2019. The F-35A Lightning II is deployed to the Air Forces Central Command Area of Responsibility for the first time in U.S. Air Force history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)

The U.S. military is currently operating with no bomber presence in the Middle East, following the recent rotation of B-1B Lancer bombers out of theater, so it can be expected that the F-35 will adopt some of its air support responsibilities, but U.S. officials are remaining tight-lipped about what exactly the F-35 will be doing while deployed to the UAE.