The first public photograph has appeared depicting an F-35 stealth fighter in the livery of Israel’s second squadron of the radar-evading jets.
The Israeli air arm in late December 2019 released a photo of an F-35 wearing the tail markings of 116 Squadron.
The aircraft, which rolled off the Lockheed Martin production line in Texas in 2015, arrived in Israel in December 2019. It originally appeared in the markings of 140 Squadron, the Israeli air force’s first F-35 unit. The air force soon repainted the F-35 in 116 Squadron colors.
116 Squadron and 140 Squadron both fly from Nevatim air base in southern Israel. The units formerly flew F-16A/Bs.
The photo of the 116 Squadron F-35 signals the steady expansion of the Israeli stealth-fighter force. Tel Aviv has ordered 50 F-35Is, which are versions of the conventional-takeoff F-35A with some unique, Israeli-made electronics. The air force by late 2019 had received 14 F-35s. The remaining 36 fighters are due to arrive no later than 2024.
The Israeli air force claimed it was the first to fly F-35s in combat. Tel Aviv in May 2018 announced it had deployed the radar-evading jet on two fronts. The Israeli government circulated a photo of an Israeli F-35A flying over Beirut during the daytime, strongly implying the fighter struck targets in Lebanon. Israeli warplanes also frequently operate over Syria.
Having stood up two F-35 squadrons, the Israeli air force now must decide whether to form a third. The 50 airframes on order are sufficient to equip just two squadrons.
The government is weighing whether to buy 25 additional F-35s or acquire new F-15s from Boeing, instead. “Israel must make this decision under extraordinary external and internal pressure,” Breaking Defense noted. “From without, it must conduct airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria amidst rising tensions with Iran.”