F-16s make Israel's air force one of the most versatile in region

By Al-Mashareq

Two Israeli F16s conduct a joint training exercise with a US aircraft earlier this year. [Israeli Air Force]

Two Israeli F16s conduct a joint training exercise with a US aircraft earlier this year. [Israeli Air Force]

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has mastered the use of its fleet, comprising mainstay F-16 Fighting Falcons and latest generation F-35s, military experts say, making it one of the most nimble and versatile forces in the region.

Israel has continued to upgrade its fleet, with its Nevatim Air Base recently taking delivery of three new F-35s, bringing the total number to 36, the Jerusalem Post reported.

An additional 14 F-35s are due to arrive in Israel by 2024.

The new fighter jets will join the IAF 140 Squadron (Golden Eagle) and will begin taking part in operational activities in the coming weeks, the newspaper said.

An Israeli fighter jet takes off at dusk. [Israeli Air Force]

An Israeli fighter jet takes off at dusk. [Israeli Air Force]

Israel purchased its first F-35s from the United States more than a decade ago.

Earlier this month, IAF F-35 Adir fighter jets escorted two US Air Force B-52 bombers above Israeli airspace on their way back from the Arabian Gulf.

The flyover, with Israel's F-35s accompanying US bombers for the first time, demonstrates the "increasing co-operation" between the Israeli and US militaries, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said.

Israeli modifications

At one point, the IAF operated the largest fleet of F-16 fighters outside the United States, according to

The IAF has ordered 362 F-16s in total, from early F-16A/Bs to the latest F-16I, and currently operates 175 F-16C/I aircraft, according to Flight Global's 2022 World Air Forces.

The first fleet of F-16Is arrived in Israel in 2004.

The F-16I Sufa, a two-seat variant of the F-16C/D Block 50/52, has an increased performance engine and features a range of modifications that were specifically designed to meet the IAF's requirements.

The fighter jet can be armed with advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), Python 4 and 5 air-to-air missiles and JDAM guided bombs, anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles, laser guided bombs and GPS-guided bombs.

"The F-16I is fitted with Israeli-designed conformal fuel tanks that extend the jet's flight range by increasing the fuel it can hold by 50%," the 19FortyFive defence website said.

"The placement of the tanks also allows the wings' inner store stations, which are typically utilised for external tanks, to be available for weapons storage. This variation alone doubles the Sufa's air-to-ground weapons capacity."

The F-16I is modified with an Israeli-made electronic warfare suite and avionics.

"Approximately half of the Falcon's avionics were replaced with Israeli innovations including the aerial towed decoy," the website said.

"The Sufa's electronic warfare suite incorporates radar warning systems and jamming capabilities, including the Elisra SPS 3000 self-protection jammer."

The F-16I also features the Elbit Dash IV display, which shortens the lock-on process time for engagements, as well as a helmet-mounted cueing system.

"This Israeli development can link aircraft information such as height and speed to the system, enabling weapons to target enemy aircraft using sight only."

"Dash IV allows the pilot to locate targets at high angles off the nose of the fighter, providing 360-degree information to the pilot," it added.

Successful deployment

The United States has produced more than 4,600 F-16s since production was approved in 1976, making it the most flown fighter aircraft around the world.

Israel has successfully deployed the fighter jets for more than four decades.

Back in April 1981, two F-16s from the same IAF squadron downed two Syrian Mi-8 helicopters near the Lebanese town of Zahle.

In the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli F-16s engaged Syrian aircraft in one of the largest air battles involving jet aircraft, which lasted for three days.

Israeli F-16s were credited with a 44-0 kill ratio during the conflict, with one aircraft reportedly shooting down four Syrian fighters in a single sortie.

Since then, the F-16 has continued to carry out important tasks for the IAF.

During a 2021 Israel-Hamas flare-up in Gaza, F-16I Sufas made up the majority of the aircraft responsible for striking the group's underground tunnel network and other weapons depots.

The IAF's F-16s also have targeted Iranian forces and pro-Iran militias in Syria.

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