U.S. Air Force combat units dropped bombs from the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter for the first time, the service announced.
Pilots flying the stealthy fifth-generation fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp. dropped the laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway bombs made by Lockheed and Raytheon Co. last week at a training range at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, according to a press release from the Air Force.
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said in the release.
The Air Force variant of the plane, known as the F-35A and designed to takeoff from and land on conventional runways, has dropped the munitions from the aircraft during previous tests. But the exercise at Hill involving the 388th and 419th fighter wings marked the first time actual combat units carried out the task, according to the service.
The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost $391 billion to purchase a total of 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. The Corps declared the F-35B jump-jet variant ready for initial operations last year -- albeit with a less lethal version of the aircraft. The Air Force is expected to follow suit with the F-35A this year and the Navy with the F-35C carrier version between August 2018 and February 2019.