Lockheed F-35 jet used by U.S. in combat for first time: official

FILE PHOTO: An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States used an F-35 jet against a Taliban target in Afghanistan earlier on Thursday, marking the first U.S. combat use of the stealthy plane, a U.S. official said.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-35B jet took off from the USS Essex amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea.

The F-35, made by Lockheed Martin Co, comes in three variants - the F-35A conventional take-off and landing model, the F-35B, a short take-off/vertical landing version, and the F-35C, used aboard aircraft carriers.

In May, Israel became the first country to use the U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighter in combat.

The United States and 10 partner nations are aiming to grow the F-35 fleet to more than 3,000 jets and bring the unit price of the F-35A closer to $80 million in 2020 through efficiencies gained by ordering in larger quantifies.

Lockheed is the prime contractor for the jet. Its partners include Northrop Grumman Corp, United Technologies Corp’s Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems Plc.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Mike Stone in Washington; editing by Bill Berkrot