The 116th “Lions of the South” squadron will join the 140th “Golden Eagle” unit to become the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) second official group of F-35I Adir stealth fighter jets. With the arrival of the first two F-35I aircraft for the 116th Fleet to Nevatim base in November 2019, the total number of F-35s in Israel reached 20.
The government has currently received 20 of the 50 F-35I variants from Lockheed Martin required to bring both squadrons to capacity. An additional six are expected to be delivered to Israel in 2020. The F-35I is a specialised version of the F-35A used by the US Air Force and several other air forces around the globe, designed for operation from regular runways. The government also revealed the delivery of Israel’s remaining 30 F-35Is could be expedited due to the US’ refusal to send Turkey F-35s over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system.
In the Tri-Lightning 2019 international air exercise, Adir participated for the first time with the international variant F-35. The exercise was conducted under the leadership of the United States Air Force with aircraft from the 140th Fleet of the IAF, the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force.