The Israel Air Force has become the first air force outside the United States to declare initial operational capability of it’s F-35 Adir stealth fighter jet.
A year after the advanced stealth jet first touched down in the country, the commander of the Israel Air Force Brig.-Gen. Amikam Norkin announced on Wednesday that the integration and training period for the jet has finished.
“The announcement of the operationalization of the Adir aircraft comes at a time in which the IAF is operating on a large scale on a number of fronts in a dynamic Middle East,” Norkin said, adding that the jets will allow Israel to confront the “constantly evolving and complex challenges” in the Middle East.
After years of developing the most expensive plane in history, the jet is expected to be used for long-range missions and will, according to senior Israeli officials, provide complete air superiority in the region for the next 40 years.
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 missile defense system, which Tehran announced in March had become operational.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the planes are being purchased as part of the military aid agreement between the US and Israel.
In the first deal, Israel purchased 19 F-35s at a cost of $125 million, while in a second deal of 14 jets, Jerusalem will pay $112m. per plane. The cost of the plane is expected to drop to around $80m. in the coming years.
The jet was designed to the country’s own specifications and will be embedded with Israeli-made electronic warfare pods as well as Israeli weaponry, all set to be installed once the planes arrive.
The Israeli F-35s have components built by several local defense companies including Israel Aerospace Industries who produced the outer wings, Elbit Systems-Cyclone that built the center fuselage composite components and Elbit Systems Ltd., which manufactured the helmets worn by the pilots.
Israel is also the only partner nation to have secured the rights from the US to perform depot-level maintenance, including overhauling engines and airframe components, within its borders.
The IAF, which currently has nine F-35s, is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.
It’s believed that the country is still considering to acquire F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing jets. According to Lockheed Martin, the B variant “is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near frontline combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases.”
This could be crucial at times of war when air force bases – and particularly runways – run the risk of being targeted by enemy missiles and rockets.