Israel activates second F-35I squadron

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has stood up 116 Squadron Lions of the South as its second operational F-35I Adir unit.

The squadron was reactivated during a ceremony on January 16, and will operate its Lockheed Martin F-35I Adir multi-role stealth fighters from Nevatim Air Base, near Be’er Sheva in the south of the country.

F-35I Adir [IAF/Amit Agronov]
F-35Is from 116 Squadron in flight. The aircraft are distinguished by their new lion’s head tail flashes which have appeared on aircraft that were delivered in late 2019. IAF/Amit Agronov

Maj Gen Amikam Norkin, commander of the IAF – who was in attendance at the ceremony – said: “This is a task that requires only a focused team with a deep sense of commitment – meet it, that’s your task. The air force carries a great deal of responsibility every day. From now on, [116 Squadron] is becoming part of the strategic arm, part of our quality advantage over our enemies.”

The squadron first stood up in February 1956, operating from Tel Nof Air Base, located near Rehovot in central Israel. It started its operational career operating as a reserve squadron, flying North American P-51D Mustangs before these were withdrawn at the end of the 1950s. Since then, 116 Squadron has operated the Dassault Mystère IVA, A-4N Ayit, F-16A/B Netz and now the F-35I Adir.

F-35I Adir [IAF/Amit Agronov]
Three 116 Squadron-marked F-35I Adirs on the flight line. IAF/Amit Agronov

Israel has ordered a total of 50 F-35Is, with 20 already having been delivered. The country has an option to purchase an additional 25 aircraft – enabling the IAF to form a third squadron. The remaining 30 aircraft will arrive in Israel by the end of 2024, with six aircraft slated to be delivered by the end of this year.