The 116th Squadron “Lions of the South”, based at Nevatim in southern Israel, is the second Israeli Air Force unit to be equipped with the “Adir”.
On Jan. 16, 2020, the IAF officially reopened the 116th (“Lions Of The South”) squadron. The unit joins the 140th “Golden Eagle” squadron, becoming the second to operate the “Adir” (as the Israeli Lightning II stealth aircraft are dubbed).
Both the 140th and 116th Squadrons, that make up the “Adir Division” now, previously operated the F-16A/B “Netz” (Hawk), a type that was retired after 36 years of service in December 2016.
Interesting to see that @IAFsite has dropped the previous squadron name ‘Defenders of the South’. And also note the service’s increasing use of the – previously classified – squadron numbers when referencing units. https://t.co/V4dyAC6erb
— Thomas Newdick (@CombatAir) January 16, 2020
The F-35I Adir with the new Lion’s head tail flash (the front of the squadron’s emblem) were delivered on Nov. 21, 2019.
The reopening of a second Adir squadron dates back to April 2019. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the establishment of the first designated building that would act as a temporary home for the 116th Squadron.
“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’ last year. “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.
20 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. According to the Jerusalem Post, of the remaining 30 planes, a total of six planes are expected to land in Israel this year, including the IAF’s experimental F-35I, which will act as a test plane for the country’s planned modifications.
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.
The F-35I have take part to the Blue Flag exercise for the first time in November 2019.
Dealing with combat experience of the type, here’s what I have written last year (not that much has changed since then other than a series of unconfirmed reports about F-35 taking part in air strikes here and there…):
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”.