U.S. and Israeli Air Force Carry Out First Bilateral F-35 Exercise in Israel (With No Face-Face Activity Due To COVID19)

Two Adirs and two US Lightnings flying together over Israel during Exercise "Enduring Lightning". (Image credit: IAF)

“Enduring Lightning” saw the IAF F-35Is and USAF F-35As operate together in the first bilateral US-Israeli 5th generation exercise over the skies of Israel.

On Sunday Mar. 29, the F-35I belonging to the 140 Sqn “Golden Eagle” of the Israeli Air Force and the F35As from the 34th FS “Rude Rams” of the 388th Fighter Wing from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, took part in Ex. “Enduring Lightning”. The aircraft were involved in air-to-air and air-to-surface missions and were also supported by G550 “Nachshon Aitam” Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) of the 122 Squadron “Nachshon”: interestingly, no activity was carried out in “stealth mode” as photographs released after the drills clearly show both Israeli Adirs and US Lightnings carrying the radar reflectors/RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers.

This was the third time the Israeli 5th generation jets carried out joint activity with foreign F-35s: in June 2019, the Adirs took part in a TriLateral training with the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus; in November last year, the Israeli Air Force hosted its Blue Flag 2019 exercise at Uvda AFB (or Ovda) north of Eilat, Israel, attended for the first time by  the F-35I “Adir” and by the Italian Air Force F-35s; then, yesterday, the Bilateral training with the U.S. that saw the American F-35s training in Israeli skies for the very first time.

According to the IAF, the exercise took place in the air only, no face-to-face meetings between Israeli and U.S. teams were carried out: briefing and debriefing were conducted on secure network connections as a consequence of COVID19 pandemic. This also means the U.S. F-35As that flew inside Israeli airspace were among those currently deployed to Al Dhafra, UAE, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

“Americans are our number one partners,” said Major T. T., head of the International Exercises section in a release on the IAF website. “It is of great importance to work with the most advanced aircraft in our territory, when we host them. It is important for the IAF to work with the Americans, leaders of the F-35 project, to see how they operate, to learn from them and to collaborate on advanced technology in the aviation world.” Major M., the exercise leader of the 140th Squadron added: “This is the second time we are flying with the US F-35s. We strive to be as connected as possible to the partners in the project – training with the Americans is excellent as they have a great deal of knowledge and experience on the subject. The exercise we performed was intimate.”

Indeed, as happened in the past with multinational projects involving more partner nations (such as the Tornado or the Eurofighter), such multi-lateral trainings are organized quite frequently, to share experiences and lessons learned between the various operators (usually, shaking hands, even though, for some times this won’t be possible because of the Coronavirus – so be prepared for more “virtual” or “social-distanced” exercises in the near future). And they also represent an opportunity to take some cool shots as those released by the Israeli Air Force after Exercise “Enduring Lightning”:

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.