The 116th Squadron will be officially re-established in one year and will be part of the “Adir Division”.
On Apr. 25, 2019, the news that the Israeli Air Force had opened a second F-35 “Adir” (as the Israeli Lightning II aircraft is called) Squadron, called the “Defenders of the South”, broke through the social media.
“The Israeli Air Force opened a second squadron of F-35 stealth fighter jets, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday,” reported the Israeli media outlet.
— Anna Ahronheim (@AAhronheim) April 25, 2019
While it is true that the IAF will have a new squadron equipped with the 5th generation aircraft, the new unit, the 116th (“Defenders of the South”) Squadron, will actually be reestablished as an “Adir” squadron in approximately one year, according to the Heyl Ha’Avir. The 116th will join the other F-35I squadron, the 140th “Golden Eagle” Squadron at Nevatim Air Base, in the southern part of the country.
In Hebrew, the 4 directions refer to geographical locations in Israel
Yama=To the Sea=East
Negba(Negev)=To the Negev=South
Kedmo=Towards the land of Kedem=West
Tzophon=Towards the hidden parts=North.
The Jewish language is tied to the land of Israel.
— Harry Trenk (@trenk_harry) April 25, 2019
Both the 140th and 116th Squadrons previously operated the F-16A/B “Netz” (Hawk), a type that was retired after 36 years of service in December 2016.
“We chose to integrate the new aircraft into a squadron with a long-lasting legacy instead of establishing a new one”, said Lt. Col. N’. “The 116th Squadron has existed for many years, and the ‘Adir’ is the fifth type of aircraft operated by the squadron”. Indeed, the 116th was established with first-generation aircraft over 60 years ago in Tel-Nof AFB; now it operates fifth-generation stealth jet, a change that is symbolized in the squadron logo, that has remained the same but with inverted colors as a sign of the significant shift.
So far, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the establishment of its the first designated building for the 116th Squadron, headed by IAF Chief of Air Staff, Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, the IAF website reported on Apr. 10.
“This building will act as a temporary home for the establishment crew, and will later be utilized by the squadron’s technical department”, said Maj. G’, an aircrew member and a part of the establishment crew in the official news release.
Israel was the first country to use the F-35 stealth aircraft in combat. “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,” the Israeli Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, said last year.
Israeli media outlets (in Hebrew) quoted IAF chief as specifically stating that the IAF had “struck twice” with the F-35 on “two different fronts in the Middle East“, suggesting IAF Adir had carried out weapons delivery. This was later confirmed in an official post on the IAF website: “We performed the F-35’s first ever operational strike. The IAF is a pioneer and a world leader in operating air power”.
The Chief of IAF also presented an image, that we analysed in depth here, showing an F-35I flying over Beirut, Lebanon, a photo that was particularly interesting as it showed the aircraft flying at high altitude “off” (rather than “over”) Beirut, with radar reflectors, hence not in “stealthy mode”.
14 F-35I stealth aircraft have already been delivered. A total of 50 “Adirs” will be delivered by the end of 2024 to equip two full squadrons. Israel also retains an option for an additional 25 F-35s to form a third squadron. However, many recent reports suggest that the third “Adir” squadron may be postponed to buy F-15IA (an acronym for Israel Advanced) aircraft, that would complement the F-35s for all those “use cases” where LO (Low Observability) can be traded for range and payload.