Why Iran Needs to Fear Israel’s Very Special Version of the F-35


F-35s over Iran? This week, the Saudi-run news outlet Elaph reported that Israeli F-35I Adir stealth fighters penetrated Iranian airspace on several occasions in recent months. According to a Times of Israel article, the unverified report proclaimed the fleet of airframes also evaded Russian and Iranian radars in each instance.

F-35 Joint Exercises With IDF

Additionally, Elaph expressed that the U.S. and Israel have carried out large-scale military drills over the Red Sea to simulate an aerial attack against Iran and its vessels in the Gulf Sea. While this report has not been confirmed by either the U.S. or Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have flown aerial exercises with several countries this summer. In June, reports revealed that the U.S. covertly coordinated with the Jewish state on its airstrike operations targeting Iran assets in Syria, further emphasizing the joint effort to counter the increasingly threatening regime.

In addition to the alleged U.S.-Israeli military drills over the Red Sea, Elaph reported that Israeli submarines had been “covertly monitoring Iranian spy ships Beshah and its escort Jamaran, as well as helicopter landing ship Hingman,” which are all positioned in this body of water.

The Jewish state conducted a month-long military exercise in May, where simulating wide-scale attacks targeting Tehran took priority. In its “Chariots of Fire” series of drills, the IDF utilized an unprecedented number of active-duty, reservists, and military branches to prepare its armed forces for potential kinetic conflict.

The Commander of the U.S. Army’s Central Command was personally invited by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi to witness the commencement of the drills, showcasing the unity between the two countries regarding the Iranian threat. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz highlighted this factor, adding that “Israel is getting prepared for all scenarios by building its military power and by holding strategic talks with the Biden administration. The cost of countering Iran now is higher than it was a year ago and lower than it will be a year from now.”

Collaborative Efforts Between Israel and the U.S.

The Elaph report suggests Israel and the U.S. have taken the next step in the collaborative effort to thwart the Iranian regime and its military. Israel’s fleet of F-35I Adir fighter jets represents the most advanced and sophisticated airframes in its Air Force’s arsenal. In fact, Israel’s reputation as the country in the Middle East with the leading air superiority dates back to its acquisition of the F-16 and the F-15 back in the 1970s – Israel was the only nation the U.S. allowed to purchase the air superiority variant of the F-15.

Their acquisition of the F-35 only cements that status. The Jewish state became the first foreign procurer of its F-35I “Mighty One” in 2010, initially debuting its version of the fighter as combat operational in 2018. As outlined in a previous 19FortyFive piece, Israel’s Air Force specially modified the skeleton of the already top-tier Lockheed Martin-produced F-35 Lightening II to give the aircraft regional advantages.

Israel’s Fleet of F-35s Have Distinct Advantages

Like the before it, Israel is the only country the US allowed to modify the F-16 and F-15, and it has reportedly, done the same with the Lightning. By involving its local defense contractors, the Jewish state was able to modify the F-35 to its own specifications, arguably making it even more formidable.

“The F-35I variant can be externally modified by the Israeli Air Force (IAF), which also has access to the jet’s advanced digital architecture, including its communication systems, electronic warfare and surveillance suite, and mission control hardware. Included in the ‘Mighty One’s’ Israeli-made hardware is an electronic warfare system that has a ‘plug-and-play’ function for add-on systems like air-to-air missiles and external electronic warfare pods.”

Israel’s F-35I Adir variant became even more noteworthy in June, when Israeli media outlets reported that the country had developed a way to extend the range of the airframe. Extending the fighter’s long-range strike capabilities has remained a top priority for the Jewish state. Due to distance, the Israeli Air Force’s capability to conduct airstrikes inside Iran’s territorial boundaries while ensuring enough fuel remains for the return trip has been a sticking point.

The Jerusalem Post revealed that in addition to the jet’s new long-range abilities, the IAF also introduced a new one-ton bomb that can be carried in the Adir’s internal weapons compartment without risking its stealth radar signature.

Due to the F-35I’s stunning characteristics, reports concerning its ability to reach Iranian territory without being detected is more than possible. Additionally, past U.S.willingness to covertly support or merely acquiesce to Israeli-launched efforts targeting Iran and its assets in the Middle East suggest that the alleged role America played in this week’s drills are not unimaginable.

In June, a Wall Street Journal report detailed how the Pentagon plays an active role in reviewing Israel’s planned airstrikes in Syria, which largely target Iranian militants and assets. This report showcased the joint effort by Israel and the U.S. to minimize the Iran regime’s malign behavior in the region, making the Elaph report’s assertions more probable.

The alleged U.S.-Iran training drills coincided with several significant evolving events in the region. Earlier in the week, President Biden ordered airstrikes against Iranian-aligned militants in Syria in retaliation for a recent rocket attack that struck near a base housing U.S. troops. The U.S.-Iranian joint nuclear negotiations in Vienna are also wrapping up, increasing the prospects for a salvaged Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The reported collaborative military exercise is the latest in this series of moving pieces in the region.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Kristin Wolfe performs a demonstration in the F-35A Lightning II during at the Reno Air Races in Reno, Nevada, September 19, 2021. The F-35 Lightning II Demonstration Team is based out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicolas Myers)

What the Experts Told 19FortyFive on F-35

John Venable, Senior Research Fellow with The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy told 19FortyFive that “There is little doubt that Israel is currently employing the F-35 just as it was designed, proving the jet’s ability to strike targets that are protected by some of the most capable surface-to-air missile systems in the world. The lessons they are gleaning will undoubtedly pay dividends to the United States for decades to come.”

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