Israel has become the first country to take the F-35 fighter into combat, according to a statement on the military’s official Twitter account today.
“The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity”
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 22, 2018
Local media also quoted Israeli Air Force (IAF) commander Maj Gen Amikam Norkin as saying: “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts”.
The IAF’s commander made the statement during a speech to the chiefs of 20 foreign air forces gathered in Israel. According to local media, Norkin displayed a photograph of an Israeli F-35 overflying Beirut.
It’s currently unclear which attacks the Adirs were involved in. However, Maj Gen Norkin did reveal that neither of the two attacks strikes took place during Israel’s bombardment of Iranian targets in Syria on May 10.
Israel was the first country outside the United States to introduce the F-35, known locally as Adir (Hebrew for ‘mighty’). The first two F-35As Adirs for the IAF arrived at Nevatim air base on December 12, 2016.
The initial Adir unit is 140 ‘Golden Eagle’ Squadron, previously an F-16A/B operator. The IAF declared the squadron operational at Nevatim last December, by which time nine aircraft had been delivered to Israel.
Responsible for one of the leading air arms in the Middle East, it was no surprise when Israel placed its first order for F-35s. The first 19 Israeli F-35s were ordered in 2010, at a cost of $2.7bn, and by November 2016 the country had approved acquisition of 50 of the stealth fighters, enough to equip two squadrons.
Fielding the Adir makes sense in terms of retaining the IAF’s unquestioned technological edge – especially when the F-35I model incorporates indigenous electronic warfare equipment and weaponry. What is less clear is how the F-35 will replace the existing inventory including, perhaps, the veteran F-15 Baz.
A report earlier last year that the Israeli F-35 had already seen combat proved premature. The Adir was supposedly involved in a January 2017 raid against Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air defence systems that Israel feared could be delivered from Syria to Hezbollah forces operating in Lebanon.