The latest two F-35Is for the Israeli Air Force arrived at Lajes in the Azores on their delivery flight on September 12. The Adirs – the sixth and seventh to be delivered to Israel – had been planned to arrive in the Azores on August 28, but Hurricane Harvey delayed their departure from Fort Worth, Texas. They finally got airborne on September 2 but had to return to their base due to technical issues found on other aircraft.
The jets, serials 908 and 909, arrived at Lajes using the callsigns ‘RETRO 11’ and ‘RETRO 12’ respectively and were followed by KC-10A 85-0032 ‘BLUE 61’.
The first two F-35Is arrived at Nevatim air base on December 12. The first two aircraft — AS-1 (serial 901) and AS-2 (serial 902) — received their Star of David national markings in an official ceremony soon after landing.
The first F-35I, AS-1, had performed a maiden flight at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, on July 25, 2016. The second jet, AS-2, followed it into the air on August 8 last year.
The two initial F-35Is flew to Nevatim via Lajes in the Azores and Cameri in Italy, but their arrival in Israel was delayed by around 24 hours due to heavy fog in Italy and the need to recognise American safety protocols.
The IAF received another three Adirs when the fighters arrived at Nevatim on April 23 this year.
The initial operating unit for the Adir is 140 ‘Golden Eagle’ Squadron, previously an F-16A/B operator, which had completed “dozens of flight hours” on the type by the time of the April delivery. Initial operational capability is planned to be achieved by the end of the year.
To date, Israel has ordered 50 F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channels. The first 19 F-35s were ordered in 2010, at a cost of $2.7 billion. This includes the first two F-35Is that are part of the eighth batch of low-rate initial production aircraft. Delivery of the first 19 aircraft is due to be completed by the end of 2018.
In November 2014 Israel authorised the purchase of another 14 F-35s, to which were added 17 options, in a deal valued at around $2.8 billion. The 14 aircraft in the second batch include a single test example and 13 intended to populate a second front-line squadron. Deliveries of the second batch of aircraft will take place between 2019 and 2021.
With a view to acquiring the full 50 aircraft required to field its first two 24-aircraft Adir squadrons, Israel approved the purchase of its 17 options in November 2016. This deal is likely to cost over $2.5 billion.
Beyond the 50 F-35Is currently contracted, the US administration has approved Israel’s purchase of as many as 75 F-35s.