Israel hosts US F-35s in first joint training exercise

Israeli Air Force (IAF) Lockheed Martin F-35I Adir fighters and US Air Force (USAF) F-35A Lightning IIs have taken part in exercise Enduring Lightning – the first joint training exercise dedicated to the fighter to be held by Israel.

The exercise – hosted in late March – comprised F-35Is from the IAF’s 140 Squadron ‘Golden Eagle’ – operated from Nevatim Air Base in Israel’s Be’er Sheva region – and F-35As from the USAF’s 34th Fighter Squadron ‘Rude Rams’, which are home-based at Hill Air Force Base (AFB), Utah.

Israeli-operated Gulfstream G500 Nachshon Shavit signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft also participated in the exercise, which saw the F-35s from both nations tackle aerial and ground threats.

This is the third time that Israel’s Adir fighters have trained alongside F-35s operated by other nations. In June last year, F-35s operated by the IAF, USAF and Royal Air Force (RAF) participated in Exercise Tri-Lightning, and in November 2019, Israeli-hosted the international Exercise Blue Flag, which welcomed Italian F-35As.

Exercise Enduring Lightning - USAF/IAF F-35s [Israeli AF] #1
A pair of USAF F-35A Lightning IIs led by two IAF F-35I Adirs in flight over Israel. IAF

Maj T, head of the IAF’s International Exercises Department, said: “The Americans are our number one partner… I see great importance in co-operating on the most advanced plane in our inventory with us as hosts. The IAF finds it important to work together with the Americans, leaders of the F-35 project, see how they operate, learn from them, and strengthen co-operation in the field of cutting-edge aviation technology.”

The exercise was held exclusively in the air, with no face-to-face encounters between the Israeli and US aircrew, and briefings and debriefings were conducted through classified communications devices due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Maj M, who led the exercise on behalf of 140 Squadron, added: “We aspire to stay as connected as possible to countries involved in [the F-35’s] development project, and training with the Americans presents an excellent opportunity to do so since they have a lot of knowledge and expertise on the matter. The exercise we conducted was intimate. The forces flew in two formations of four and communicated directly as opposed to through an indirect channel.”

Maj T explained that Enduring Lightning has laid the foundation for Israel to host more exercises with foreign F-35s in the future. “We intend to create an exercise so it will eventually become a home court exercise… In other words, we aspire to train like we did [on March 29] with American forces here in Israel regularly.”