Israel celebrated its 75th year of independence with an epic flyby over the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv today on Thursday.
In addition to fireworks displays, barbeques, and street celebrations, the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) annual airshow was highly anticipated across the country.
A number of various airframes participated in the widely watched flyover, including the F-35I Adir, F-16 Ra’am, F-15 Soufa fighter jets. A Boeing refueling plane, Sea Stallion, Black Hawk, Apache, and Panther helicopters also wowed the thousands of civilians watching from the shoreline.
The impressive display occurred amidst the ongoing domestic turmoil that has plagued Israel’s political sphere in recent months. However, as IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi noted in his Independence Day remarks, “the IDF is the broadest common denominator of Israeli citizens: all who serve in it love their people, their country and their homeland.”
Since tensions between the Jewish state and its top adversary Iran have ramped up in 2023, the IAF’s aerial show of strength also serves as a warning to the Islamic Republic.
Iran may have the largest military in the Middle East. Still, Israel undoubtedly possesses superior capabilities – as demonstrated by its range of top-of-the line fighters in the Independence Day airshow.
The F-15 “Ra’am:
The introduction of the F-15I “Thunder” fighter jet into Israel’s Air Force brought a whole new range of capabilities to the service. Boeing collaborated with Israel’s Aerospace Industries to produce a specially modified airframe that could better serve the needs of the IAF.
The Ra’am features a larger frame than its American F-15E Strike Eagle counterpart so that it can carry more ammunition and weapons. Additionally, the Israeli F-15E variant hosts a range of homegrown capabilities, including an Elbit display and sight helmet, a central computer and an APG-70 radar with terrain mapping abilities.
Even with the addition of the fifth-generation American-made F-35 in its arsenal, the IAF relies on its fleet of Ra’ams to fly in longer-range missions. The Ra’am can carry more fuel and weaponry than the IAF’s other fighter platforms, making it a necessary airframe for potential future conflict with Iran.
In fact, the Israeli government had a choice to procure additional Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters back in 2019. However, Israel opted for additional F-15I jets instead.
The F-16 “Soufa”:
With more than 300 F-16I fighters in its arsenal, the IAF flies the largest contingent of this platform outside of the U.S. Air Force. Similar to Israel’s other fighters, the Soufa is a heavily modified version of an American-made airframe. The Soufa hosts individualized avionics and weapons systems capabilities as compared to its F-16D block 50 and 52 fighter counterparts. An initial contract between the jet’s manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the Israeli government allocated up to 110 F-16Is in the early 2000’s.
The initial shipment of fighters feature Israeli-made conformal fuel tanks that extend the airframe’s flight range by increasing its fuel-carrying threshold by 50%. In addition to the fuel tanks, the Soufa hosts a primarily homegrown electronic warfare suite with the Elisra SPS 3000 self-protection jammer and radar warning systems.
The F-16I has remained a critical component of the IAF’s fighter fleet and has an honorable service history. In 2021, Soufas made up the majority of airframes responsible for striking underground terror networks during an Israeli-Hamas flare up in Gaza.
The American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is widely considered to be the most advanced fifth-generation fighter platform across the globe. Israel’s specially modified F-35 variant, however, may actually supersede its American counterpart’s abilities. The Jewish state not only became the first foreign nation to procure the F-35 back in 2010 but also became the first nation to acquire a unique Israel-specific prototype. The F-35I Adir (the Mighty One) features a range of indigenous Israeli components, including a locally-developed helmet-mounted display and datalinks function and an electronic warfare system (EWS).
Two IAF squadrons fly the Adir, including the 116thLions of the South Squadron and the 140thGolden Eagle Squadron based at Nevatim Airbase. Additionally, a third squadron flies the F-35I for training purposes. Israel’s fleet of F-35s recently made history for taking part in the U.S. Red Flag 23-2 exercise in Nevada last month alongside American airframes.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.