Good News – Israeli F-35I Adir Returning to Service: Out of precaution, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) grounded its entire fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft earlier this month after a defect was discovered in a small number of ejector seats. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had announced that each aircraft would be inspected, and on Sunday, it was reported that four of the Middle Eastern country’s 33 F-35s have returned to full service.
IAF commander Tomer Bar had met with technicians in the past week at the Nevatim Airbase, where the F-35I “Adir” fleet is housed. The IAF teams had been provided equipment from Lockheed Martin to conduct inspections of the Martin-Baker ejection seats. In April, a faulty component was discovered, which could prevent the pilot from being able to safely egress from the aircraft during an emergency.
Meet the F-35I
Israel had become the first foreign nation to select the F-35 through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales process when a Letter of Agreement was signed more than a decade ago in October 2010. On June 22, 2016, the IAF received its first F-35A at a ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas facilities.
Yet, the IAF is unique in that it also operates a special variant that was developed to address concerns that the F-35’s stealth capabilities could be partly overcome within a decade despite the 30- to the 40-year service life of the aircraft. Israel sought to utilize its own electronic warfare system (EWS), and while the U.S. had initially refused to allow such changes, it was eventually agreed that the IAF could integrate its own EWS, including sensors and countermeasures, on top of the U.S. systems.
In addition, IAF pilots utilize a locally-developed helmet-mounted display, and bespoke datalink functionality that is specific to the IDF, while other enhancements further improved the F-35’s already-potent data gathering and processing capabilities. These various enhancements to the stealth aircraft have been significant enough to warrant the ‘I’ designation, making the F-35I one of just a handful of formally acknowledged F-35 variants. The Israeli Air Force designated the F-35I with the name Adir, meaning “Mighty One” in Hebrew.
Two IAF squadrons are equipped with the aircraft including the 116th Lions of the South Squadron and the 140th Golden Eagle Squadron based at Nevatim Airbase. The IAF also has a third squadron used for training.
F-35Is Training With Italian F-35As
Despite the unique enhancements with the F-35I, it is still able to train alongside the F-35A variant without issue. Just last month, aircraft from the IAF took part in the “Lightning Shield” joint fighter jet exercises with the Italian Air Force.
The two “IAFs” – Israeli Air Force and Italian Air Force – saw several F-35Is from Nevatim Airbase fly side-by-side with four Italian F-35s in a week-long drill.
“The exercise is a significant milestone in further establishing cooperation between the armies, while strengthening the unique relationship between the countries,” the IDF said in a statement to The Times of Israel. “The exercise will contribute to improving the operational competence of the F-35I Adir array and expanding its capabilities to possible operational scenarios.”
IAF pilots in F-35Is have previously operated alongside American F-35s in the Enduring Lightning III joint training exercise in late 2020, and last year’s Falcon Strike 2021 multinational exercise.
In addition, late last year, Israeli fighter pilots also visited the UK’s Royal Navy flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to learn how to operate an F-35 squadron from a carrier. Though it is unlikely Israel would ever launch such a warship, it suggests that perhaps some of its pilots could operate the F-35 from one as part of a multinational force.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.