The Israeli F-35I “Adir” Declared Operational. So What’s Next?

An F-35I Adir flying over Israel shortly after delivery. (Image credit: IAF)

Little less than a year after the first two aircraft were delivered to Israel, the Israeli Air Force F-35s have achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Dec. 6, 2017, the Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 Lightning II jets, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, operational.

“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 in an official blog. “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”.

The Israeli Air Force has so far received 9 aircraft that have been assigned to the 140 Sqn (“Golden Eagle”) at Nevatim airbase. The first two aircraft were delivered on Dec. 12, 2016. Five have been chosen for the assessment that has been conducted to declare the fleet IOC. As a side note, the status of the F-35 was grounded after suffering a birdstrike last month, sparking speculations that it might have been hit by the Syrian Air Defenses during a covert air strike, is unknown. Anyway, the Israeli F-35 is the first outside of the United States to be declared operational, preceded only by the U.S Marine Corps and U.S Air Force. The Italian Air Force, that has received 8 F-35s so far, has not declared IOC yet (at least officially).

“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, Commander of the 140th (“Golden Eagle”) Squadron, which operates the “Adir”. “I am confident in the division’s capability to reach operational preparedness and feel that the pressure is positive and healthy”.

What does IOC mean? Using U.S. Air Force lingo, it means that the IAF has enough operational aircraft, trained pilots, maintainers and support equipment to conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems. In simple words, it means the aricraft are capable of flying actual combat missions.

Throughout 2018, the “Golden Eagle” Squadron is expected to integrate six more fighters, while the next aircraft are scheduled to land in Israel early in the summer.

“We have yet to complete our acquaintance with the aircraft. We still have tests, development of combat doctrines and extensive learning before us”, concluded Lt. Col. Yotam in the official statement. “We haven’t stopped learning thinking and developing upon being declared operational. The establishment of the division doesn’t end with this inspection, it just begins. Will the ‘Adir’ participate in the next military campaign? I have no doubt. An aircraft like this brings capabilities to the IAF that it didn’t have before; it is an important strategic asset”.

An Israeli F-35A departs Nevatim. (Credit: IAF)

The IAF has always been enthusiastic and vocal about the fifth generation aircraft: “As the Middle East grows more and more unstable, and as groups that threaten to destroy us race to stockpile weapons, we need to stay a step ahead of the game. The F-35 gives us the edge we need to take on groups and armies with even the most advanced technology,” said the IDF in a blog that preceded the delivery of the new aircraft.

In a farewell interview with Haaretz, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, former IAF Commander said: “Not everything is perfect […] There are some things you only learn on your feet. This happens with every plane that we add. But when you take off in this jet from Nevatim [IAF base], you can’t believe it. When you ascend to around 5,000 feet, the entire Middle East is yours at the cockpit. It is unbelievable what you can see. The American pilots that come to us didn’t experience that because they fly there, in Arizona, in Florida. Here they suddenly see the Middle East as a fighting zone. The threats, the various players, are in short range as well as in long range. Only then do you grasp the tremendous potential this machine has. We already see it with our own eyes.”

“This jet brings us everything we’ve dreamed of doing, in one package,” said another senior air force source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor media outlet earlier this year. “It’s all concentrated on one table for us. As we all know, the F-35 can reach places in a way that others can’t. But in addition, it integrates high-level operational capabilities as well as the ability to read and analyze a battle map. The earlier, fourth-generation jets are excellent at maneuvering and activating sophisticated weapons systems, but they are not able to collect intelligence and independently analyze battle movement. The F-35 can do all this by itself in real time, with only one pilot sitting in the cockpit. We have never had such an operational capability until today. Until now, attack aircraft were operated independently of air support aircraft. The former waited to receive analysis of the battle picture that came from the latter. But in the F-35, everything is on the same platform, and this is no less than amazing. When you connect that to several aircraft, you receive strategic capability for the State of Israel.”

Indeed, what makes the F-35 one of the world’s most advanced aircraft is its high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. However, electronic intelligence capabilities similar to those that the Israeli aircraft can put in place to get a pretty detailed view of the Middle East, can be used by neighbouring nations to spy on their fifth generation jet.

According to the same sources who talked to Al-Monitor, the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

An Israeli “Adir” flies alongside a “Sufa”

Although it was just declared operational, it will take a few years to “completely” understand and exploit the stealth jet’s capabilities. Even more so, considered that the Israeli F-35s will have some domestic modifications and components provided by Israeli companies, that the IAF has not even begun the process of installing and integrating on the jet. Indeed, the IAF F-35As will be different from the “standard” F-35s, as they will employ national EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).

As we have already reported, IAF may also purchase some F-35Bs, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, that would allow the Israeli to have a squadron or two of multirole aircraft able to take off and land from austere/dispersed landing strips should Iran be able to wipe out IAF airbases with precision weapons.

So, Israel’s “journey” with the F-35 jet has just begun.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. As facts slowly come out, it will be shown that the plane’s critics (of its performance) simply never knew what they were talking about. Each report from the field, be it Red Flag or IAF ops, continue to paint this aircraft as a unique cutting edge system (yes “system, not just “fighter”) that puts F-35 in a class by itself. A fighter and ground attack aircraft with no equals. You get airborne and you don’t need AWACS because everything out there, all planes, emitters, threats, instantly pop up on your flight panel display. You have an indigenously-generated picture of the battlespace like no fighter pilot has ever had before. And you can respond to it appropriately. Damn if that isn’t impressive!

  2. Let’s talk about stealth. Oh large (and easily taken out by cruise missiles btw) ground radars operating below 300 mhz might know you’re out there, somewhere, might be able to vector some fighters into the general vicinity to look for you, but by the time any aircraft gets within 100 nm [plus] of F-35 they still can’t see it, but F-35 can see them. Then the decision to engage or break-off lay with the JSF pilot, not with the aggressor. Not a position any opposing pilot wants to find themselves in. For obvious reasons.

    • Ah yes, “but F-35 can see them.” True, but they’re likely to see it in the near future and without radiating themselves. How? By taking advantage of the fact that any F-35 doing its wonders is radiating multiple signals (radar and data) that can be closely tracked. And how will that be done? By using an array of SDR chips that cost but a few dollars each. Encrypted radar is like encrypted messages. Apply enough computational power and you can crack it.

      And the F-35 is not stealthy. No aircraft is. Any solid object has surfaces facing out. What stealth does is create an airplane in which all the flat surfaces are oriented in just a few directions, generally straight down or up. You see that most obviously with the F-117. It’s the flat surfaces toward a radar that reflect the signal. Build no flat surfaces that reflect back to radars ‘out there’ and the plane appears stealthy—to the basic WWII model of a radar system.

      But is is not really stealthy. How do you get around that? Easy as pie. Use your VHF radar to spot when an F-35 is crossing a picket line of upward looking S-band or higher radars. Angles are poor at VHF but range works well.

      Flip those picket radars on and they’ll see the F-35’s flat belly within an accuracy of a few yards. Then you fire up extremely fast ground-to-air missiles. Given how pricey an F-35 is and how cheap this missiles are, you can easily launch several just to be sure. The missiles have their own radar aimed at that flat belly and the ground radar shuts down after but a few seconds on the air—to wait for its next F-35 victim. Create an overlapping array of them, and they can move quickly after each firing, defeating anti-radar missiles.
      Stealth ships are even more useless. The Zumwalt is a good example. Those flat surfaces you see on it should make your blood run cold. Virtually all lie in the same plane. Blast one or more strong radio signals over the water from several sources, it matters not what. A TV station or cellular base would serve as well.

      Send up aircraft, perhaps cheap and almost invisible drones or light, single-engine aircraft. All they need is a receiver and an antenna oriented in azimuth. Two will be enough to spot any Zumwalt and three or four will ensure accuracy. Just cross the angles you get from each.

      Ah, but the ship is almost invisible you say? Not even remotely so. From certain angles the Zumwalt looks like a gigantic metal barn. Imagine that TV signal skimming the waves and striking a Zumwalt. It bounces upward doesn’t it. That’s why a regular radar does not see it. But we are not talking about a regular radar here. Note that the ship bounces that signal very strongly and in a most predictable pattern angled upward.

      Fly drones at a convenient altitude and at some point they’ll cross that reflected signal. Multiple signals give multiple tries and the data for a ship-missile intercept. The angle gives a line to the ship. The altitude of the ship is sea level. And the distance is easily calculated because the reflected angle is a known quantity given those fixed flat surfaces. The drone need not measure that angle, and thus can use any signal not just a pulsed one.

      The mentality behind stealth does not impress. It assumes that if you throw enough money at defeating radar reflection, you’ll make yourself invisible and master of all you survey. Much of the F-35 chatter is like that. But that shows an gross ignorance of military history. Every weapon has a counter.

      One more fact. Back in the late 1960s as an engineering co-op student I worked at Eglin’s A-7, a radar that emulated a Soviet SAM-2 missile-firing radar. The system was not that complex, but I was impressed with just how clever the design was. I would never sell-short the Russian ability to counter stealth. And keep in mind that doing so has been on their to-do list for several decades.

      • I believe that is called rhetoric; frequently done when making a point that may not be obvious to the intended audience.

    • There are a few posts below mention some “ingenious” stealth counters.

      The truth is such counters are actually rather problematic in real life once you inject some common sense reasoning and physics intuition.

      First of all, radar pickets have been around since the battle of Britain. Speculation against “flat bellies” aside, they can likely detect stealth aircraft by working in multistatic configurations.

      The problem is their range is very limited. In order to detect a stealth aircraft, the plane would have to be almost right on top of the geographical area enclosed by the multistatic array or in a narrow geographical area between a pair of antennas.

      Unfortunately for the defender, with modern sigint, sensors, satellite imaging and machine learning techniques such sites have a high probability of being located via multiple means, and are likely to be attacked before the stealth fighters even arrive.

      Even if the defenders only switch on the antenna momentarily when they are sure that stealth is in the area (e.g.: something just blew up), they are likely to get an instant response from the attacking fighters and what ever loitering weapons are in the air to protect them (e.g.: advanced HARM).

      Since these setups need to use omnidirectional radio emissions, they are also very likely to be detected by attacking aircraft before they can detect the attackers.

      These factors mean that they are not ideal counters to stealth.

      The vhf arguments have been rehashed endlessly. They still have the problem of being enormous radars that are likely to eat a missile before they can get a fix on anything. They are solutions for early warning and are not ideal for fighting back against stealth either.

      Then there’s the argument that ew equipment on aircraft can see radar emissions from stealthy planes first. If that was actually true the F35 would not be racking up 25 to 1 kill ratios. The problem with this idea is that the f35 is using a radar with a very tight beam that spreads its energy in short pulses all over the x band. Detectors have to be both good and lucky to detect a ping. However, each f35 also has irst and passive ew sensors, and 4 f35s work together to detect and track targets. That means that the radio warning equipment is trying to lock on to an illusive signal thats not on all the time and jumps around between four different planes. That pretty much makes it impossible to nail down any particular source.

      So, all if these “solutions” that sound great on paper don’t work out in practice. In fact, they have been in use by the US for 60 years and the US has the most advanced versions of them. It just doesn’t put them in sales brochures. You can bet that modern stealth techniques have been thoroughly tested against them and found adequate.

      A lot of people also seem to conceive of these air battles as chess (actually that gives too much credit, its more like checkers). In reality these are more like gun and knife fights happening in a darkened, huge warehouse. Ok, you’ve got a flashlight, but does that mean you are going to beat the team of telepathically connected ninjas who are equipped with thermal vision, smoke grenades, flash bangs, drones and silenced mp5s?

      At the end of the day you need stealth to counter stealth. Thats why the Chinese are working so hard on the j20.

  3. The Russians can’t build stealth. The Chinese have copied but I doubt they have the basic R&D down needed to perfect it. And the U.S. and our allies continue to receive deliveries of this magnificent and cost-competitive fighter. The verdict is easily discernible. F-35 is turning out to be a tremendous success, and because of it the U.S. and our allies, in particular Israel, will own any unfriendly skies they decide to fly in to. Any way you cut it that adds up to ownership of the air battlespace, and an unparalleled ability to target and destroy all kinds of enemy targets below. Now what air force, what military, wouldn’t salivate over that capability? You critics? Well, no reason to spell out the obvious. : )

    • “The Russians can’t build stealth.”

      Not even two days since the Su-57 flew for the first time using its new engine, and due to enter service next year. They may not have more than a dozen or so, but they’re not cavemen when it comes to technology, the hardest part for Russian aerospace development was not stealth but the avionics required to make the Su-57 a truly competitive 5th gen aircraft. As of now we’re still unsure if this is the case, while the stealth, engine, and other physically observable aspects are much better known.

      As for control over airspace, that was the case when Serbs fired antiquated SA-3s and downed an F117. SEAD didn’t count for anything against intelligent AA crews who didn’t allow themselves to be illuminated without necessity.

      Airspace control also been the case for the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan ordeal, with little gained other than over working existing airframes to deliver ordnance on small groups of sandal-wearing insurgents in the middle of shit fuck nowhere. The F-35 may be great, but flying a bunch of them over Syria to kick down a crumbling ISIS is hardly a meaningful assessment of its capabilities, nor any better than what we’ve been doing for decades with the now needlessly strained frames of the F-15 and F-16 fleets.

      The F-35 is the weapon of the future combat airspace, one which does not need to be brought out until anything remotely approaching near-peer adversarial opposition presents itself. You don’t need an F-35 to avoid MANPADS from nearly half a century ago, you do need them to contest airspace against a real opponent with a deep IADS network, something nobody outside of Russia, China, and a few Western EU and NATO affiliated nations possess. Would be a pointless drain on resources to go about employing the F-35 as a complete replacement for front-line aircraft, and no different from the egregious waste of resources when we decide to bomb mud-brick huts in the desert with a B2. The Air Force always gets its toys, they need to be taught to wait, preferably before they play with them so much they break without being shown off to potential enemies.

    • “The Russians can’t build stealth.” ( Leroy )

      But the brainwork at the roots of all stealth physics and mathematics is Soviet. A Soviet Russian is the father of stealth. The USAF was the mother and a brilliant American (Ben Rich) was the midwife. Give credit to merit. Ben, being a man of integrity*, did.

      *See Encyclopaedia Britannica, letter “I”.

  4. God news indeed!
    But they should beware of storks.. It seems that they are the only real threat for Adirs. BTW, that plane that was struck by.. hmm.. birds.. is it repaired already?

    • Like that is anything new or unique about the F-35? Do you know how many bird strikes happen in the US alone?

      Get over yourself.

    • Yes the plane was not damaged and was back in service in the week it was reported. They just ran the scans on it – the scans are very important for a stealth air-craft, as anything done to the surface of the plane can effect its radar cross-section.

    • Seems Russian aircrews will wipe out their fleets of fighters and bombers, all on their own.

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