U.K. F-35B stealth fighter jets have flown their first operational mission flights over Syria as part of the British mission against Islamic State, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said on Tuesday, June 25.
Two F-35B Lightning aircraft conducted a patrol over Syria on June 16 and have flown a further 12 sorties since then, the Ministry of Defence said. The sorties were flown as part of Operation Shader, the U.K.’s contribution to the Coalition against ISIS.
The RAF said the F-35s did not carry out any strikes, the BBC reported.
“The F-35s are the most advanced jets our country has ever possessed and will form the backbone of British air defense for decades to come,” Mordaunt said.
“They have passed every test their training has thrown at them with flying colors and their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the U.K.”
The deployment was pre-planned and not a response to Iran’s actions in the region, Mordaunt said.
The F-35B is one of three variants of Lockheed Martin’s multirole stealth fighter and features a short takeoff and vertical landing system. It is operated jointly by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
In the United Kingdom the F-35 is operated by the RAF’s 617 Squadron, which currently operates 17 aircraft. There are plans to acquire 138 of the fighter over the life of the program.
The U.K. chose the F-35B to replace its retiring Harrier II and Tornado GR4 jets and to operate with the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. 617 Squadron is set to carry out operational tests alongside the HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year in the United States ahead of the carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.