Israel’s second F-35I squadron declared operational

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) announced that its second Lockheed Martin F-35I ‘Adir’ unit – 116th Squadron ‘Lions of the South’ – had been declared officially operational on August 6.

Israel’s 116th Squadron was stood up as an F-35I unit on January 16, 2020 and before it was declared fully operational, the unit underwent a six-month work-up process. During this period, the squadron defined training processes and planned its operational tactics. Personnel belonging to the unit also faced a number of scenarios to prepare them for real scenarios and for an operational fitness inspection, which took place before the squadron attained its operational status.

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The IAF's 116th Squadron is based from Nevatim air base in central Israel. Note that the F-35Is operated by this unit feature unique lionhead tail art. IAF/Amit Agronov 

Maj Edi, the 116th Squadron’s technical officer, said: “The operational fitness inspection provides an official seal of approval for the operational capability of the 116th Squadron to carry out all the missions of the ‘Adir’ division. The squadron’s tasks include its management during routine and periods of war, as well as maintaining functional continuity.”

The operational fitness inspection simulated 72 hours of intense combat. Maj Edi added: “We worked 24 hours a day, nonstop… Soldiers, officers and NCOs [(non-commissioned officers)] alike, worked for 16 hours a day and rested for the remaining eight. The squadron operated in shifts, to simulate its activity during warfare.

“We dealt with situations of missile attacks, and were tested on our ability to handle them properly… When missiles hit the squadron, a fire broke out and there were injuries – they examined our decision-making process, management during combat, and ability to maintain functional continuity. That is just one example out of many. There wasn’t a single scenario that we were not prepared for,” Maj Edi concluded.

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An F-35I 'Adir' - belonging to the IAF's 116th Squadron - takes off in to dusk skies with its afterburner roaring. IAF/Amit Agronov

Personnel were not informed as to what scenarios they would face as part of the operational fitness inspection prior to the test week taking place. This was purposeful to provide a more realistic setting as it is not always possible to anticipate what will happen in combat situations.

Maj G, leader of the operational fitness inspection and an aircrew member with the ‘Lions of the South’, added: “The inspection simulated the operational arena and the current regional tensions. Several scenarios led to a simulated war on all fronts, and aircrew members took off for missions in all of Israel’s regions.

“The entire squadron participated in the operational fitness inspection, ranging from new soldiers who arrived this month to reserves who were specially recruited to take part… From the moment the squadron was established to this day, we were accompanied by a feeling of desire to be part of a team… The next significant milestone will be our first operational mission. We are still a small squadron and will continue to recruit new people and aircraft in the coming months,” Maj G concluded.