The Israeli Air Force and the U.S. Air Force Central Command have held a joint exercise involving their F-35 fighters to practice dealing with various threats amid rising tensions in the region.
"Enduring Lightning II" on Sunday was the second joint exercise of its kind by the two countries. In March, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel and the U.S. held "Enduring Lightning" for the first time, as reported by Israel Defense.
The latest exercise, like the first, took place in the skies above southern Israel with the advanced 5th generation jets working together to locate and neutralize various simulated aerial and ground threats. Unlike the previous exercise, it included training in operation of communications systems.
The IAF's 140th Squadron, which operates the "Adir" (F-35I) fighter jet, trained alongside the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which operates the F-35A Lightning II, and the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, which flies the KC-10 Extender. The IAF's 122nd Squadron, which operates "Nachshon" (Gulfstream G550) aircraft, was responsible for conducting aerial air traffic control.
The exercise tested all specialties of the F-35 and other aircraft including in-air refueling, engaging targets, and command and control, according to a U.S. Air Force press release.
The exercise was held in accordance with the guidelines of Israel's Health Ministry, with the planning and debriefing carried out using military platforms to prevent contact between crews and protect all participants, according to the IAF.
"The two air forces maintain close cooperation, including mutual learning and sharing of lessons learned," according to an IDF statement. "This exercise illustrates the close relationship between the air forces and military echelons and enhances the cooperation of knowledge and capabilities of the F-35 and the IAF's operational abilities."
Israel, the first country to buy F-35s after the U.S., has agreed to buy 50 of the fighters for $1.5 billion. Israel now has two squadrons of them. Lockheed Martin has delivered 14 of the fighters so far. In May 2018, Israel said its F-35s had conducted their first combat missions.
Enduring Lightning II was the latest demonstration of the close cooperation between the two militaries despite the pandemic. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel for talks with senior IDF officers and government officials in late July.