NICOSIA, Cyprus — Britain has flown its first test mission over Syria and Iraq using the new Lightning F-35B, supposedly as part of ‘ongoing operations against remnants of the Islamic State group,’ according to a statement made by the U.K.’s defense secretary Penny Mordaunt said.
Mordaunt said the jet flew its first operational mission as part of Operation Shader from Britain’s air base in Cyprus following a ‘highly successful’ six week training period.
Six F-35B aircraft from 617 Squadron were flown by three British Royal Navy and three Royal Air Force pilots, after they arrived at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on May 21, as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.
Officials said the aircraft didn’t fire any weapons when flying alongside Typhoon jets during the missions over Syria and Iraq.
British military officials said there were no plans for the F-35 to conduct any combat missions while in Cyprus.
The U.K. now owns 17 of the F-35B models with plans to procure a total 138 jets from Lockheed Martin, at a price of $150 million each.
The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short takeoffs and vertical landings. However, the jets have been plagued with numerous technical problems since their debut, including accusations that the plane cannot operate properly in the rain.
Other problems include the fact that the F-35 can only fly at supersonic speeds for “short bursts of time before there is a risk of structural damage,” and loss of stealth capability. One critic remarked that they ‘can’t fly too fast or they’ll break’.
Other serious malfunctions also include putting pilots’ lives at risk from cockpit hypoxia, by reducing the level of oxygen available to the pilot.
For these and other reasons, many experts has declared this expensive ‘future-proof’ fighter jet as a potential a liability and “nowhere near combat ready.” According to a report from the non-profit Project on Government Oversight said the F-35C variant “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cyber-vulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing.”
The F-35B is scheduled to be deployed this autumn on Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, where more tests are said to be carried out off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for their first carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.
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