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U.S. F-35s Are Already Getting Experience Against Hostile Missile Defenses

Two U.S. Air Force F-35 stealth fighter had a close encounter with a mobile air-defense system during combat operations over the Middle East. The encounter underscores the stealth fighter’s potential as a platform for suppressing enemy air-defenses, a service official said.

A dozen F-35s from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings in April 2019 traveled from their home station at Hill Air Force Base in Utah to Al Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates to participate in coalition air operations targeting Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Gen. David Abba, director of the Air Force’s F-35 integration office, in early March 2020 told attendees of an industry conference that the 12 F-35s during their seven-month deployment flew 1,300 combat missions totalling 7,300 hours and dropped 150 weapons.

“The numbers were pretty remarkable,” Abba said, according to Aviation Week reporter Steve Trimble.

Abba described one sortie where a pair of F-35s detected, apparently via their ASQ-239 electronic-warfare suites, a mobile air-defense system. E.W. gear can pick up on the radar and radio emissions from enemy forces, allowing a crew passively to locate the enemy without activating its own radar.

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