Two F-35As assigned to Eglin AFB, Fla., supported Rangers with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, during an exercise at the base simulating hostile targets in close proximity. During training, Rangers set up communications systems to encode and decode messages, prepare fire support plans with target coordinates, and determine target locations, according to an Eglin release. The exercise isn’t the first time F-35s have flown simulated close air support during Army exercises; F-35As flew in support of Green Flag last summer. The Eglin exercise highlight the F-35’s close air support capability, which has become a major point of contention between the Air Force and Congress as the service looks to retire its most famous close air support platform, the A-10. (See also: A New Way to do Close Air Support.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.