Stealth fighters from IAF, USAF meet in the skies for latest 'Enduring Lightning' exercise 

Sending a message to potential aggressors, the two air forces practiced operations against surface and air targets to maintain readiness and strengthen cooperation

Photo: US Air Force

The IAF and the US Air Force held their latest joint exercise involving F-35 fighters, Enduring Lightning 3, this week to practice dealing with various strategic aerial and ground threats in the Middle East.  

Like the first two Enduring Lightning exercises, the training on October 12 was held in the skies over southern Israel with all briefing and debriefing conducted via secure network connections, with no face-to face meetings between the participating forces due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

The IAF's 116th Squadron, which operates the F-35I "Adir", trained alongside the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron of the USAF operating F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, as well as the USAF's 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron and 340th EARS, which operate the KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft.

Air traffic control for both Israeli and American fighter jets was provided by the IAF's 122nd Squadron, which operates Gulfstream G550 "Nachshon" aircraft, while the IAF's 115th Squadron, its "red" squadron that specializes in simulating enemy forces, assumed the role of aggressors in the exercise, the IAF said. 

The head of the IAF Air Division, Brig. Gen. Amir Lazar, said "Israeli-American cooperation, and international 5th generation exercises in Israeli territory, place the IAF as a reliable source of knowledge in the field of F-35 aircraft, and the State of Israel as a quality operational training arena. Throughout the exercise, the air forces operated closely, which allowed for a shared learning experience. The joint exercise lays out a strong base for future cooperation and enhances knowledge sharing in the field of F-35 aircraft."

In a press release, US Air Forces Central (USAFC) said the IAF and the USAF trained to maintain a ready posture to deter against regional aggression while forging strategic partnerships. Reports in the international media have said that US stealth fighters participating in the Enduring Lightning exercises are among those deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The USAFC press release noted that the 340th refueling squadron flew from its base in Qatar to participate in the joint training with the IAF.  

"The Enduring Lightning exercises provide invaluable opportunities for both AFCENT and our Israeli partners to improve readiness and strengthen relationships,” said Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central) commander. “This partnership has been built on trust and developed over decades of mutual cooperation, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to regional stability.”

Enduring Lightning was held for the first time in March, followed by the second bilateral F-35 exercise in August. The IAF also participated in F-35 training with the USAF and the Royal Air Force in June 2019 in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus. 

Israel, the first country to buy the fifth-generation aircraft after the U.S., has agreed to purchase 50 of the fighters for $1.5 billion. Israel now has two squadrons of the jets produced by Lockheed Martin. In May 2018, Israel said its F-35s had conducted their first combat missions.

The US is currently negotiating the sale of the stealth fighter to the UAE following the Arab country's normalization of ties with Israel. As reported by Israel Defense, the Jewish state is said to be seeking a compensation package to maintain its qualitative military edge in the region.

The IAF says that it continues to maintain full operational readiness and conducts ongoing training exercises, including international cooperation, to ensure that it fulfills its main mission of protecting Israel's skies.

Photo: US Air Force

Photo: US Air Force

Photo: US Air Force

Photo: US Air Force