The Israel Air Force declared its F-35I unit operational today, following the year-long qualification of 140 Squadron (‘Golden Eagle’) – the first IAF unit operating the Fifth Generation fighter (dubbed ‘Adir’ by the IAF). The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) qualification process began in December 2016 when the first two aircraft arrived and the Nevatim base. Since then the unit received seven additional jets as part of the initial order. By the summer of 2018, the squadron is expected to receive six more fighters. The full delivery of the first order of 33 jets is expected to be completed in three years. Another lot to be delivered by 2024 to complete the formation of two Adir squadrons by the IAF.

The qualification and testing phase included five of the nine F-35Is operated by the IAF, along with aircrews and support teams. All were found fit for initial operational activity. “The inspection examined missions and scenarios that include all of the operational elements required to fly the ‘Adir’, from the ground to the air”, shared Lt. Col. Yotam, C/O 140th Squadron. “I am confident in the division’s capability to reach operational preparedness and feel that the pressure is positive and healthy”. Yotam added.

“The initial operational capability inspection examined more than the squadron’s readiness to operate the ‘Adir’, it tested the entire IAF. The inspection dealt with multiple elements in the IAF: the various directorates, the ‘Golden Eagle’ Squadron, the ATC Unit, Nevatim AFB, the Central Control Unit and many more”, described Lt. Col. Yotam.

The IAF’s standpoint, to adapt itself to the fifth generation instead of adapting the “Adir” to the IAF, posed a new challenge every day. “The main theme that characterized the past year was learning. Every day in the past year ended with a debriefing in which we learned something new: about the aircraft, about its systems, operation, and maintenance”, shared Maj. D, Deputy Commander of the 140th Squadron.

The “Adir” enhances the IDF’s strategic and operational capabilities, and improves the IDF’s readiness in several scenarios and its ability to combat a wide range of threats in all arenas, as stipulated in the IDF’s multi-year “Gideon” plan. Photo: IAF

The Israeli Air Force is the only air force, other than the United States Air Force and Marine Corps, that fly the F-35 operationally. The US Navy, the Italian Air Force, Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Japan’s Seld-Defense Air Force are also training their operational units in the respective countries but these have not been operationally ready.

“The declaration of the squadron’s operational capability is occurring at a time in which the IAF is operating on a large scale in a number of fronts, in the constantly changing Middle East”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF. “The operational challenge, which is becoming more and more complex each day, receives an excellent aerial response. The ‘Adir’ aircraft’s operational status adds a significant layer to the IAF’s capabilities at this time”.