Being “Combat proven” used to mean a whole lot, but like all good consepts, it has suffered from inflation. In 1950’ies era planes, MiG-15s and Sabres it meant quite a lot as it did with MiG-21s and Phantoms. They did, after all, meet in pretty level fighting ground in Asian skies.
Now a days Jas-39 C/D gripen, Dassault rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon are all “combat proven” as is F/A-18 E/F/Gs. If the israelis have, as there are rumors, used the F-35 to bomb targets in Syria, the F-35 is also a combat proven aircraft. They are really not, not in the 1950-60 frame of reference anyway. Closest comes the F/A-18 E/F as it took part in 2003 invasion into Iraq, but even then the “air combat” was pretty non existant.
I’m pretty good in punching holes in MEU/SOC test into unresisiting cardboard targets. That does not make me any kind of “operator”. OK I can pass the MEU/SOC on a good day, but that still only qualifies me as a pretty good rifleman. NOT an special forces guy how ever I might want it. Not by a long stretch.
Nor should bombing undefended targets in Irak, Afganistan and Syria be considered Combat Proven. Hell even the Libya campaign in 2011 was a bombing campaign against largely aerially undefended targets. Lobbing explosives against targets from stand off ranges is all good and fun, but it is not “combat proven” for Fighter planes by any stretch in my books.
So until there is REALLY a fighter to fighter engagements, bombing and what not all against DEFENDED targets, the whole “combat proven” is just hyping. So untill you start to get drop ratios from more than 20 planes lost, you really do not know about the concept or the plane itself.