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    Enhancing U.S. Airpower in the Middle East Amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions with the F-35 Lightning II in 2023

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    F-35 Lightning II completes Edwards testing” by MultiplyLeadership is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, deployed to deter Iranian aggression and Russian interference, have concluded their mission in the Middle East as of late September 2023, as confirmed by the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The advanced fighters left the region after bolstering U.S. Navy operations in the Strait of Hormuz and over Syria, marking a significant assertion of American airpower in a geopolitically tense landscape.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning II’ Heritage Flight Team” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, Air Forces Central (AFCENT) commander, articulated the impact of the F-35 deployment, stating, “What the F-35s did is they gave us additional capacity.”

    F-35 Lightning Drops a Paveway II Laser Guided Bomb” by Defence Images is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    These capabilities were crucial in supporting the U.S. Navy’s combat air patrols over the Strait of Hormuz and contributed to a broader coalition effort over Syria, deterring Russian fighters from engaging in unsafe behavior toward U.S. forces.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II over Edwards AFB, CA” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    On July 23, Iran announced the start of its yearly air force exercise.

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs begin Auto GCAS test flights.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    State media reported over 90 fighters, bombers, and drones taking part in the drill named “Devotees of the Supreme Leader-11.”

    JSF F-35 CTOL First Flight Lockheed Martin Lightning II DSC_0606” by plaskota is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    A U.S. official characterized the coordination between Iran and Russia in the area as “covert.”

    Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin AFB, Fla.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The 421st Air Expeditionary Squadron operated the F-35s which arrived in the region on July 26, prompted by Iranian attacks on commercial shipping and by heightened Russian aerial provocations.

    F-35 Lightning II – Leeuwarden Airport” by Frans Berkelaar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    In the Persian Gulf, their presence enabled U.S. forces to maintain critical missions while adding sophisticated airpower to back Navy vessels, evidenced by the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group’s deployment, which included Harrier jets capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing operations.

    JSF F-35 CTOL First Flight Lockheed Martin Lightning II DSC_0616” by plaskota is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    These actions have effectively discouraged Iran from aggressive acts against maritime shipping in the region.

    F-35 Lightning II” by blueforce4116 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Grynkewich further highlighted the moderation of Russian tactics post-deployment, noting, “They still fly in the airspace, but not directly overhead of our forces, so I welcome that shift in behavior.”

    Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    “My view is that deterrence is temporal,” Grynkewich said of Iran. “We’ve surged forces in response to a specific threat. That shows American commitment to the region.

    F-35 Lightning II” by Diorama Sky is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It shows that our American strategy has been, with our posture being less than once, shown a commitment to bring forces in for either major exercises for assurance purposes or when a threat requires it. And we certainly did that in this case.”

    An F-35 Lightning II flys over Eielson Air Force Base during Red Flag – Alaska” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    On Oct. 8, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced the Pentagon was enhancing the U.S. presence in the region by deploying the Gerard R. Ford aircraft carrier and cruise missile-carrying ships to the Eastern Mediterranean.

    RAF F-35 Lightning II” by Sam Wise is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The following day, a senior defense official cautioned the militant group Hezbollah to “reconsider” opening a northern front against Israel and stated the U.S. is prepared to intervene militarily.

    Relevant articles:
    F-35s Leave Middle East After Deployment to Deter Iran and Russia, Air & Space Forces Magazine
    F-35s Arrive in CENTCOM Amid Threats from Russia, Iran, Air & Space Forces Magazine, Jul 26, 2023
    Doubling down on deterrence: US sends F, Breaking Defense, Jul 17, 2023
    A Dozen US F-35 Stealth Fighters Arrive In Middle East To Counter Russian, Iranian Belligerence, EurAsian Times, Jul 27, 2023

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