An F-35B Lightning II prepares to launch from the USS Essex on Thursday. Navy photo

The Marines marked the first combat use of an F-35B stealth fighter Thursday with a successful strike in Afghanistan launched from the San Diego-based USS Essex.

The strike by jets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 was conducted in support of ground clearance operations, and deemed successful by the U.S. Central Command.

“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air war-fighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” said Vice Adm. Scott Stearney. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

The Camp Pendleton-based 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is the first to replace the aging AV-8B Harrier with the F- 35B in combat.

The ready group left San Diego unannounced in July on an otherwise routine deployment.

The F-35 is being built in three versions for the Marines, Navy and Air Force as part of the most expensive weapons program in history. The Marine version can take off from the Navy’s amphibious assault ships and land vertically upon return.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.