Israeli Air Force inaugurates second F-35 squadron

The 116th "Lions of the South" will join the 140th "Golden Eagle" squadron to protect Israel's skies.

An F-35 on the runway during the Blue Flag drill (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An F-35 on the runway during the Blue Flag drill
The Israel Air Force’s second squadron of F-35i Adir stealth fighter jets will be officially inaugurated on Thursday at Nevatim Airbase in the country’s south.
The ceremony will be attended by senior air force commanders, including Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, as well as officials from Lockheed Martin.
The 116th squadron, nicknamed Lions of the South, will join the 140th Golden Eagle squadron. Several planes from the 140th squadron will be transferred to the 116th squadron until additional F-35i land in Israel.
The Israeli air force currently has 20 F-35i Adir aircraft, and is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024. Of the remaining 30 planes, a total of six planes are expected to land in Israel this year, including the IAF’s experimental F-35i, which will act as a test plane for the country’s planned modifications.
The two squadrons making up the Adir Division in the IAF used to fly the F-16 Netz fighter jet, which was decommissioned in 2015.
“We chose to integrate the new aircraft into a squadron with a long-lasting legacy instead of establishing a new one,” Lt. Col. N. was quoted by the IAF as saying in April. “The 116th Squadron has existed for many years, and the Adir is the fifth type of aircraft operated by the squadron.”
Built by Lockheed Martin, the jets have an extremely low radar signature, allowing the jet to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems, which have been deployed in countries such as Syria.
“Against a high-threat environment, the F35i is absolutely the weapon of choice. Stealth allows the pilots to go wherever they have to go,” Gary North, vice president for Customer Requirements, Aeronautics for Lockheed Martin, said in December, adding that the pilots “are confident in carrying out their missions.”
According to North, the jet, which carries the AN/APG-81 AESA radar, is capable of identifying and intercepting airborne threats that fly at a low altitude and at high speeds, like cruise missiles.
With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots of the stealth jet have unparalleled access to information while in the air.
With a need to keep ahead of increased threats in the Middle East, the Israeli air force is set to decide within the coming months to place orders on several new aircraft, to upgrade its aging squadrons.
The IAF is also now considering whether to purchase an additional 25 F-35is in order to give the Jewish state a total of 75 stealth fighter jets.
Lockheed Martin has recently lowered the price for the basic F-35 model to $79.7 million, and the price for the IAF is expected to be even lower if the decision is made to procure even more jets. In parallel to the fifth-generation aircrafts, the IAF needs to retain its qualitative military edge and modernize an essential squadron of its fighter fleet.
Most of the IAF’s F-15s are more than 30 years old, with the majority acquired in the second half of the 1970s, and a more advanced squadron of the F-15, the F-15I, arriving in Israel in the 1990s.
The F-15IA model that the IAF is leaning toward purchasing is one of the most advanced and cost-effective fighter planes ever to be built, with various upgrades to the earlier models, such as more efficient engines and fly-by-wire avionics, considered the biggest change to the jet in 20 years.
While the F-35I has advantages such as intelligence gathering, the F-15IA’s assets closely match most missions carried out by the IAF, such as dealing with enemy missile launch sites, or terror targets on its northern or southern borders.
Officials believe that a force mix of F-35I Adirs along with a squadron of F-15IAs would allow Israel to carry out a number of complex operations, including any possible confrontation with Iran on its borders.