Israel has struck targets in the Middle East with the F-35 Adir stealth fighter jet twice, Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin said Tuesday, becoming the first country to use the US-made jet in combat.
"We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It had become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts," he said during the IAF Senior Air Force Conference in Herzilya.
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Norkin made the comments while showing a picture of one Israeli F-35 flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut during the day. He did not mention when the picture was taken.
Israel declared initial operational capability of the world's most advanced jet in December after receiving nine F-35s. The Air Force is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024.
With an extremely low radar signature, the F-35 is able to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory such as Iran as well as evade advanced missile defense systems like the advanced Russian-made S-300 missile defense system which Tehran announced in March had become operational.
Israel is also said to be still considering acquiring F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing jets. According to Lockheed Martin, the B variant "is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near frontline combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases."
This could be crucial in times of war when air force bases - and particularly runways - run the risk of being targeted by enemy missiles and rockets.
Current US Department of Defense plans state that Washington will acquire a total of 2,456 F-35s from the United States Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. According to Lockheed Martin, over 280 F-35 aircraft have been delivered and are operating from 15 bases around the globe with over 580 pilots and 5,600 maintainers who have been trained on the aircraft whose fleet has surpassed more than 130,000 cumulative flight hours.