The 3 countries that have sent F-35s into combat just combined their stealth-fighter firepower for the first time

US Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs, center, lead a formation of Israeli Air Force F-35I, right, and Royal Air Force F-35B, left, in an exercise over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on June 25. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keifer Bowes
  • US, UK, and Israeli F-35s joined forces for the first time over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday.
  • While there are a number of countries participating in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program, these three countries are the only ones to have sent their stealth fifth-generation fighters into combat.
  • During Tuesday’s air exercises, the fighters practiced taking on advanced aircraft and air-defence systems.
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Only three countries – Israel, the US, and the UK – have sent F-35s into combat. On Tuesday, stealth fighters from each of these countries joined forces for the first time for an international exercise.

US Air Force F-35As, UK Royal Air Force F-35Bs, and Israeli Air Force F-35Is linked up over the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday for Exercise Tri-Lightning, a counterair exercise involving active and passive air-defence operations, US Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We build capacity with our strategic partners to harness our air component’s capabilities and skills,” AFCENT Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella said.

The drills were designed to train American, British, and Israeli pilots to defeat the advanced weapons systems of sophisticated opponents. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said in a separate statement that the drills “simulated survival scenarios and defence against varying threats from advanced aircraft,” which included both fifth-generation and previous-generation fighters.

Israel received the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter in 2016, and two years later, Israel became the first country to use the Lockheed Martin jet in combat, the IDF said at the time.

The US followed suit on September 27, 2018, when US F-35s launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex conducted airstrikes in support of ground-clearance operations on Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

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The UK defence ministry revealed on Tuesday that Royal Air Force F-35s flew their first combat missions over Iraq and Syria recently as part of the ongoing international effort to defeat the Islamic State terror group.

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The British air force just sent its new F-35s on their first mission

The drills conducted on Tuesday marked the first time F-35s from all three of these countries had trained together.

“This training opportunity between Israel, the U.S. and Britain, strengthens shared capabilities and overall cooperation amongst allies,” Brig. Gen. Amnon Ein-Dar, Israel’s chief of air staff, said in a statement on the latest exercises.