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116 Squadron - "Lions of the South"

The Israeli Air Force has activated its second squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35A fifth generation fighters, the Lions of the South, making it one of very few countries to field multiple stealth fighter squadrons. Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin announced 19 January 2020 at the squadrons inauguration ceremony: The Air Force shoulders a great responsibility daily. From this moment, the 116th Squadron returns and becomes part of our strategic arm, part of our qualitative advantage over our enemies The challenges that stand before you are many and varied. Now we are stronger. The 116th squadron previously flew F-16 Fighting Falcons, the fourth generation predecessor to the F-35, from 2003 until 2015, and was subsequently disbanded. The Israel Defense Forces announced 09 August 2020 that the second "Adir" (mighty) Squadron, the 116th "Southern Lions" Squadron, of the Israel Air Force was fully operational,

The Israeli Air Force established the 116 squadron in 1956 using P-51D and Mystere IVA aircraft previously operated by the 101 squadron. The squadron was nicknamed "The Wirecutters Squadron" for its actions in the Suez Campaign which involved purposefully running through Egyptian telegraph wire in order to damage communications. Facing superior Egyptian MiGs and Meteors, the 116 squadron lost nine P-51D Mustangs in the Suez campaign.

In 1961, the 116 squadron had phased out the P-51D Mustang and reformed solely on the Mystere IVA, which it continued to operate for the next ten years. In 1970, the 116 squadron began receiving A-4E Skyhawks, which it operated in the Yom Kippuer War of 1973, and upgraded to the A-4N variant in 1975. In the early 1990s, the squadron upgraded to the F-16.

The 116th squadron joined the 140th "Golden Eagle" unit on 16 January 2020 to become the Israeli Air Forces (IAF) second official group of F-35I Adir stealth fighter jets. IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, officials from F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin as well as IAF-affiliated officials are expected to attend the Thursday inauguration of the services second F-35 squadron at the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel, reported the Jerusalem Post.

According to Israel Defense, the first two F-35Is for the 116th squadron arrived at the Nevatim base in November 2019, bringing the countrys total F-35 count to 20 aircraft. A number of F-35s from the "Golden Eagle" squadron are expected to be transferred to the newer unit until additional aircraft arrive. Gary North, Lockheed Martins vice president for customer requirements and a retired US Air Force general, visited Israel in December 2019 and met with members of Israels Defense Ministry and Air Force to discuss the purchase of additional F-35s.

The government had received 20 of the 50 F-35I variants from Lockheed Martin required to bring both squadrons to capacity. An additional six were expected to be delivered to Israel in 2020, according to the Jerusalem Post. The F-35I is a specialized 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.

During the time of Norths visit, the Times of Israel reported that Tel Aviv was deliberating on whether to acquire additional Adir aircraft from Lockheed Martin or purchase Boeings F-15X: an upgraded model of the F-15 that is less technically advanced and not as stealthy as its F-35 counterpart, but is capable of transporting more munitions.

The stealth that allows the pilots to go wherever they need to go, with the assurance that no other airplane can provide, gives the Lockheed Martin jet an edge, North argued on December 17 during a conference with reporters. The F-15 was originally built by McDonnell Douglas, which is now a part of Boeing. He also revealed the delivery of Israels remaining 30 F-35Is could be expedited due to the US refusal to send Turkey F-35s over Ankaras purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

The IAF, which took credit as the first country to carry out a strike using F-35 stealth fighter in May 2018, also featured several F-35Is in its recent Blue Flag Israel joint exercise series with over a thousand personnel from the US, Germany, Italy and Greece in November 2019.



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