In 2018, Israel became the first to use F-35 in combat/operations. According to an Israeli major Gen, “We are flying the F-35 all over the ME and have already attacked twice on two different fronts”. Didn’t specify what they hit, but released a photo of F-35I over Lebanon.
The second operational usage of the Fighter, was on April of 2019. USAF used their F-35A for the first time when 2 F-35A’s armed with JDAMs conducted airstrikes against weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains and an entrenched Daesh tunnel network in Iraq. The F-35As, recently deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, joined the Combined Forces Air Component team in the U.S. Central Command area of operations on April 15. This marks the F-35A’s third deployment and first to the CENTCOM AOR. In preparation for deployment, crews prepared and trained on the aircraft for the AFCENT mission.
“The F-35A has sensors everywhere, it has advanced radar and it is gathering and fusing all this information from the battlespace in real time,” said Morris. “Now it has the ability to take that information and share it with other F-35s or even other fourth generation aircraft in the same package that can also see the integrated picture.”
In September of 2018, F-35B’s operated by USMC was used in combat for the first time. They conducted an air strike over Afghanistan in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed “successful” by the ground force commander. USNI News had previously reported that the Essex ARG was the only source of naval strike aviation in all of U.S. Central Command, with the F-35Bs being the ARG’s sole strike aircraft. If a combat mission were to arise for the Navy/Marine team, it would be these F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, operating in the air combat element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
On March 2021, F-35I intercepted 2 Iranian UAVs. Iran was using UAVs to transfer munitions to Hamas. F-35I intercepted the drones before they entered Israeli airspace. IAF claimed the drones being Shahed 197, but it looks a lot like Shahed-161. Israel has revealed that its F-35I stealth jets have taken part in their first aerial engagements, shooting down at least two Iranian drones that it says were heading toward Israeli territory last year. This is the first time that F-35s operated by any nation have been confirmed as having destroyed airborne threats and it reflects the rapid pace with which Israel has expanded the use of these sophisticated jets — known locally as ‘Adir’ or ‘mighty one’ — in combat operations. The incident also underscores the continued mismatch between expensive high-end fighters and their missile armament, as well as other air defense systems, and the relatively low-cost but proliferating drone threat, especially in the Middle East.
On Nov 2nd 2023, F-35I shot down a Quds series of cruise missile fired by the Houthis from Yemen.