After six months of intensive preparations, the 116th (“Lions of the South”) Squadron, the Israel Air Force (IAF) second “Adir” (F-35I) squadron, has officially become operational. From now on, its personnel will take an active part in the IAF’s operational activity. The date was January 16, 2020, the opening of the second squadron to operate the most advanced aircraft in the IAF. This month, the squadron marked another milestone and officially became operational. The 116th Squadron’s personnel were not exposed in advance to the scenarios they had to face as part of the test week, just as during combat they will not always be able to anticipate what will happen. 116 Squadron of the Israeli Air Force, also known as The Lions of the South Squadron (former Flying Wing, and Defenders of the South Squadron), is a fighter squadron based at Nevatim Airbase.
Before being announced as operational, the squadron was required to undergo a long process, during which it gained experience in various fields – everything from defining training processes to planning the squadron’s tactics. For the last six months, the squadron’s personnel were met with the various scenarios that they were required to face as part of their preparation for the operational fitness inspection that took place this week – they will be prepared for real situations. 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.
In 2003, Israel signed a formal letter of agreement, worth almost $20 million, to join the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) effort for the F-35 as a “security cooperation participant” (SCP). The IAF stated in 2006 that the F-35 is a key part of IAF’s recapitalization plans, and that Israel intended to buy over 100 F-35A fighters at an estimated cost of over $5 billion to replace their F-16s over time. Israel was reinstated as a partner in the development of the F-35 on 31 July 2006, after Israeli participation was put on hold following the Chinese arms deal crisis. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Israeli procurement is the result of an agreement for the government of Israel to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II for the Israeli Air Force as the F-35I “Adir”. The first nine F-35s became operational with the Israeli Air Force in December 2017.
The IAF’s initial plans were to send pilots to the US in 2016 to begin training on the F-35 together with American pilots, and to take the first deliveries of F-35s in late 2016 or early 2017. The Israeli F-35s will be based at Nevatim Airbase in the Negev. The decision was based on operational, environmental, infrastructure and training considerations, as well as the IDF’s strategic vision to transfer some of its bases to the region. Israel is currently building the infrastructure needed to accommodate F-35s, including hardened aircraft shelters, underground pens, and maintenance facilities. Construction of a manufacturing facility to produce wings under license for the F-35 was expected to be completed by mid-2014. The site is to produce a total of 811 wing pairs. Initial orders for the F-35 will be for 20 planes, with a total of 75 intended.