The stealthy F-35 fighter jet has conducted a combat airstrike for the first time, culminating years of development and anticipation for the aircraft's move to the battlefield.
A Marine F-35B Lightning took off from the USS Essex amphibious assault ship and launched an airstrike Thursday against Taliban targets in Afghanistan. The aircraft is assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
There are multiple versions of the F-35 for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The supersonic Marine version, which is meant to replace the AV-8B Harrier, can take off over a short distance and land vertically, like a helicopter.
Each plane costs about $100 million.
The F-35 program has been criticized by members of the Congress over testing problems, delays and cost overruns. International buyers include Britain, South Korea, Israel, Italy, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Japan. The program was started in the late 1990s when the aircraft was known as the joint strike fighter. It completed its first flight in 2006.
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