Israel's Air Force to make changes to bring it 'to the next generation'

IAF to open third F-35 squadron, move other squadrons to bases in order to streamline maintenance and save funds.

THE ISRAEL AIR FORCE opened a new Special Forces Wing (Wing 7) in mid-July to increase the operational effectiveness of the IAF (photo credit: AMIT AGRONOV/ISRAEL AIR FORCE)
THE ISRAEL AIR FORCE opened a new Special Forces Wing (Wing 7) in mid-July to increase the operational effectiveness of the IAF
The Israeli Air Force will be making changes over the next five years as part of an efficiency plan to streamline the force, including closing an air squadron and opening a third F-35i Adir squadron.
The plan, which was signed off by IAF head Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin last month is part of a key move that will bring the Air Force “to the next generation,” sources have told The Jerusalem Post.
The IAF has already begun to execute the program, which was formulated after months of intensive staff work and aimed at resource efficiency, especially against the background of the global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the Middle East being a very dynamic area, the IAF has also identified an opportunity for change with the understanding that this period requires better efficiency and utilization of resources.
In recent years, the IAF’s flight training school has been undergoing a significant process of change, and starting in January it will be six months shorter than in past years.
Though the prestigious pilots course will not be changed, cadets will spend six months training in the Lavi advanced fighter instruction aircraft during their Operational and Advanced Operational Training Course instead of a year.
The IAF will also be moving squadrons around, including moving the two Barak 16C-F squadrons, the 101st Squadron, and the 105th Squadron, based at Hatzor base to the Ramat David base.
The squadrons will be transferred once the country’s oldest squadron, the 117th First Jet Squadron closes in October 2020. The squadron flies F-16 C/D jets out of northern Israel’s Ramat David airbase.
The decision to close the squadron, which has taken part in every war in Israel’s history since it was established in 1953 as well as dozens of major operations and shooting down 121 enemy aircraft, was made after it was understood that carrying out Middle Life Upgrades (MLU) on the jets would cost more than closing down the squadron and purchasing new platforms.
The new platforms that the IAF expects to purchase include a force mix of F-15I advanced fighter jets and F-35i stealth fighters.
Sources have said that the force mix is the “winning combination for future wars and operations in the Middle East.
As part of the changes, the IAF will be opening a third F-35i Adir squadron next year in order to better contend with regional threats.
By November the IAF will have 27 F-35i Adir aircraft out of a total of 50 planes set to land in the coming years. While initially the IAF was set to have 24 planes in each squadron, there will now be 18 jets in each.
The third squadron is expected to open by next year.
Israel was the first to use the F-35 in a combat arena in 2018, just months after it declared operational capability and, according to foreign reports, continues to use the jet for a range of missions and has flown the plane to countries where other air forces have yet to fly it.
The IAF’s second F-35i squadron was officially declared operational earlier in the week. Based out of Nevatim in southern Israel, the 116th Lions of the South squadron will now take part in IAF operational activity along with the 140 Golden Eagle Squadron.
The IAF is also once again looking at procuring Boeing’s V-22 Osprey despite budgetary issues, as it believes that there is an operational need for between 12-14 aircraft which can take off and land like helicopters but fly like fixed-wing planes.
The V-22s are designed for sensitive, extensive missions both during times of war and routine.
Other changes that will be made include centralizing the IAF’s drone squadrons currently spread among six bases around the country to Hatzor Airbase near Ashdod. Hatzor will become the main base for the IAF’s drone squadrons which currently make up 75% of the IAF’s operational flight hours out of bases like Tel Nof and Palmahim.
The IAF’s 193rd “Defenders of the West” Squadron, which operate the Atalef (AS565 Panther) naval reconnaissance helicopters out of Ramat David will be transferred to Palmahim where the IAF also operates the Yanshuf (Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk). The move will concentrate and streamline the maintenance of the helicopters into one dedicated base.
As part of the expansion of the IDF’s defensive capabilities under the military’s Momentum multi-year plan, the IAF’s Air Defense Array has shifted to a nation-wide and continuous concept of coverage. The various air defense systems which provide multi-layer protection against precision missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and more, will be centralized and cover more territory than in past years.
Along with the growth of the array, the IAF decided on a number of steps to allow for maximum efficiency including reducing the number of Patriot batteries and place them in strategic sites and close the headquarters of the 137th Battalion which operates the Iron Dome in northern Israel and transfer the 168th Wing, the array’s assessment wing, to Hatzor base.
Other changes already announced by the IAF include the opening of the new Special Force Wing (Wing 7), which will include the Air Force’s special forces, Unit 669 and Shaldag as well as other units to increase the operational effectiveness of the IAF.
The military believes that there is a significant operational need in the IAF for the new Special Forces Wing, which will allow for high-quality and close operational cooperation between the special units and extensive learning to enhance their capabilities.
The troops serving in these operational units will integrate into positions at the operational headquarters and the IAF’s instructions headquarters.