Israel is reportedly looking to bolster its air fleet by procuring more F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States to make a third squadron of the advanced jets for their Israel Air Force (IAF).
The IAF currently possesses two squadrons of the F-35s, both based at Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel, making it the only country in the Middle East to operate the state-of-the-art stealthy fighters.
According to open intelligence group Janes, IAF is likely to equip their third squadron with the F-35I variant of the US Air Force’s F-35s, which will be tailor-made to the specifications of Israel.
Although the US was reluctant at making tweaks on the request of Israel, they later allowed a modified weapons bay that could accommodate domestic Israeli weapons and also allowing the IAF’s F-35s to be equipped with domestic electronics and sensors.
The new jets are likely to be based at Tel Nof Air Force Base, also known as the ‘Air Force Base 8’, one of three principal airbases of the Israeli Air Force, located south of Tel Aviv.
Israeli media reports also suggested that Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, would seek approval for the purchase of both a third F-35 squadron and a squadron of advanced F-15s, subject to final approval by the Israeli cabinet and its Acquisitions Committee.
It is also speculated that once Israel acquires the third squadron, they would look to procure the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant for a fourth squadron, in order to make the IAF less vulnerable to ballistic missile attacks against its runways.
The US and Israel Air Forces conducted joint drills for the second time this year with their aims said to include improving the jets’ survivability against simulated “sophisticated enemy air defenses and fighters before striking ground targets”.
The drill was called ‘Enduring Lightning II’ involving the US 421st Squadron and Israel’s F-35I Adir jets and took place over southern Israel on August 2.