In August 2020, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) announced that the second F-35I Adir squadron, the 116th Lions of the South based out Nevatim in the southern of the Middle Eastern nation, became operational six months after being formed. The squadron underwent an operational fitness inspection, during which its members were reportedly tested on various scenarios.
More of a Good Thing
Israel is now looking to add a third squadron of the domestically-modified Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In early January, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Ynet news that he hoped Israel could conclude a weapons deal before the Trump administration comes to an end.
"Without a doubt we need to expand our F-35 lineup," Gantz said, as quoted by The Times of Israel. "We now have two squadrons, and I reckon that we will expand them. That is what I asked of the Americans."
A Very Special F-35
Israel is a partner in the global arms program and has already agreed to purchase at least fifty of the F-35s. Those aircraft will be delivered in small batches of just two or three aircraft at a time through 2024. In addition to being the second country after the United States to receive the F-35, Israel has also been among the few to be allowed to modify the cutting-edge fighter. The IAF gave the F-35 the Hebrew name Adir, which means "mighty one" or as Lockheed Martin denoted also "awesomeness" in Modern Hebrew.
The IAF has a history of integrating its own weapons and systems, especially electric warfare (EW) systems, even on its foreign-built aircraft. That is typically done to satisfy Israel's specific operational needs. The IAF added the EW upgrades over the F-35's built-in avionics, and instead of the $400,000 pilot helmet that is used by most pilots, a home-grown Israeli version tailored the IAF is employed. It utilizes its own heads-up mounted displays that are specific to Israel.
According to TheAviationist, the Israeli-bound F-35Is received the Rafael Spice EO/GPS guided bomb and the Israel Military Industries Delilah man-in-the-loop-controlled cruise missile.
Additionally, the aircraft have been equipped with unspecified sensors and recorders to gather test data that can be subsequently analyzed on the ground.
To date, the Israeli-upgraded F-35I Adir has flown without issue, even if there were some adjustments that needed to be made.
"New weapons affect the aircraft in different ways," explained the commander of the IAF Flight Testing Center (FTC) at Tel-Nof Air Force Base (AFB), as reported by DefenseWorld. "We run an entire series of tests to certify a capability, such as load testing, fluttering, and release fluency. In load testing, we examine the durability of the weapon and aircraft while performing complex maneuvers. In flutter testing, we check for aerodynamic phenomenon that may endanger the jet. While testing release fluency, we scan for issues in the release process of munitions – a significant test for the 'Adir' since its payload is released from an internal hold in the jet's body. After the testing process is completed, we are able to determine the guidelines for operating with the new capability."
It was several months after the first of the F-35I Adirs were declared operational that the head of the IAF revealed that the modified advanced fighters had been used to conduct bombing raids – making Israel the first country to publicly acknowledge using the fifth-generation stealth aircraft in combat.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.