Israel has struck targets in the Middle East with the F-35 Adir jet twice, making the Jewish state the first country to use the stealth fighter in a combat role in the region, Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin announced on Tuesday.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” he said during the IAF Senior Air Force Conference in Herzliya.
Norkin made the comments while showing a picture of an Israeli F-35 Adir flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut during the daytime. He did not mention when the picture was taken.
Another senior IAF officer at the conference said that the decision to announce the F-35 Adir strikes was partly taken following an intelligence assessment.
“Beyond the satisfaction from the Adir’s performance and abilities, the psychological aspect carried a lot of weight too,” he said.
According to Lockheed Martin chairman, president and CEO Marillyn A. Hewson, the F-35s, working alongside the IDF’s ground forces and navy, have been “critical” in offsetting the arming of Hezbollah.
“With C4I technology integrated into the Adir, the F-35 is particularly critical to countering Hezbollah’s vast rocket threat through rapid identification and prioritization of targets for the IAF,” she said, adding that the jets “can fly in what we call ‘beast mode,’ carrying up to 18,000 pounds of internal and external ordnance, in a mix that can include 5,000-pound-class weapons.”
With an extremely low radar signature, the F-35 is able to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, such as Iran, as well as evade advanced missile- defense systems like the advanced Russian-made S-300 and S-400.
“We aren’t building this aircraft for a fair fight, but to give our customer a decisive advantage,” said Rick Edwards, the executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International, adding that he was “not at all surprised” to hear that Israel was the first to carry out an operational strike with the F-35 Adir.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the planes were purchased as part of the military aid agreement between the United States and Israel. In the first part of the deal, Israel purchased 19 F-35s at a cost of $125 million per plane; a second purchase of 14 jets saw Jerusalem pay $112m. per plane. The cost of the plane is expected to drop to around $80m. by 2020.
Israel declared initial operational capability of the world’s most advanced jet in December after receiving nine F-35 Adirs. The air force is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.
Current US Department of Defense plans state that Washington will acquire a total of 2,456 F-35s for the United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. According to Lockheed Martin, over 280 F-35 aircraft have been delivered and are operating from 15 bases around the globe. Over 580 pilots and 5,600 maintainers have been trained on the aircraft; they have logged more than 130,000 cumulative flight hours.