The Israeli Air Force officially stood up its second F-35I squadron during a ceremony at Nevatim Airbase in Negev region in southern Israel on Jan 16.
The ceremony was attended by senior air force officers, including Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, as well as officials from Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35 aircraft.
The IAF’s 116th Squadron, nicknamed “Lions of the South”, will join the first F-35I “Adir” (the Israeli version of F-35A Lightning II) squadron, the 140th Squadron “Golden Eagle”. Both squadrons are based at Nevatim Airbase and were formerly operating F-16A/B “Netz” fighter aircraft, which were decommissioned from IAF service in 2015.
According to reports, several F-35I “Adir” (“mighty one” in Hebrew) fighter jets from the 140th squadron are transferred to the new squadron until additional F-35I aircraft arrive in Israel. The 140th Squadron received its first two F-35I aircraft on December 12, 2016.
The Israeli Air Force currently operates 20 F-35Is out of the 50 ordered from Lockheed Martin. Six additional aircraft, including the first customized F-35I test platform, are expected to arrive in Israel this year with the remaining arriving by 2024. According to reports, the IAF is also considering the purchase of an additional 25 F-35Is.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather, fifth-generation stealth multirole fighters designed and developed by Lockheed Martin to perform ground attack and air defense missions.
It has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant.
F-35I is an F-35A CTOL variant equipped with unique Israeli modifications. The Israeli Air Force declared its F-35I fleet operationally capable on 6 December 2017 second behind the U.S. The F-35 recorded its first operational strike in the service of the Israeli Air Force (F-35I Adir), targeting Iranian military facilities in Syria during 2018’s clashes.
Israel’s industrial contribution to the F-35 program includes Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) F-35A wing production; Elbit Systems’ work on the Generation III helmet-mounted display (HMD) system, which all F-35 pilots fleet-wide will wear; and Elbit Systems-Cyclone F-35 center fuselage composite components production.