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IDF closes fighter jet squadron, ending 67 years of operations

Move comes as part of military’s Momentum Plan, meant to free up resources for more advanced aircraft; troops to be moved to other units

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative. Three pilots stand in front of an F-16 fighter jet as it takes off from the Israeli Air Force's 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. Three pilots stand in front of an F-16 fighter jet as it takes off from the Israeli Air Force's 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force on Wednesday shuttered a squadron of fighter jets as part of the military’s Momentum Plan, in a bid to free up resources for more advanced aircraft going forward.

Earlier this year, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin picked the 117th First Jet Squadron, which currently flies F-16 jets out of northern Israel’s Ramat David airbase, for closure, ending the outfit’s 67 years of operation through all of the country’s wars but its first.

“This is a historic day in the air force, which is closing one of the most active and operational squadrons in the force’s history today,” Norkin said at the closing ceremony.

“The ‘First Jet’ Squadron and its operations are an inseparable part of the history of the air force,” he said.

Illustrative. F-16 fighter jets from the Israeli Air Force’s 117th Squadron, which was closed on September 30, 2020, fly during an exercise in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

In February, with the release of details of the Momentum Plan, the military announced that it would be closing two air force squadrons, as well as an armored brigade.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the 117th Squadron continued training and conducting operations until “the day of its closure” on Wednesday.

The military added that all the soldiers and officers in the squadron will continue serving in the air force.

According to the military, one of the reasons to close the F-16 squadron was to free up resources for new fifth-generation planes, namely the F-35 stealth fighter jet, which Israel purchased from the United States.

The Israeli Air Force will continue to operate at least eight other F-16 squadrons.

The 117th Squadron was formed in 1953, taking part in every war in the country’s history since then, as well as a number of major operations, including the 1981 strike on Iraq’s nascent nuclear reactor, known as Operation Opera.

Initially, the unit flew the British-made Gloster Meteor — the Israeli military’s first jet aircraft — and then moved to operate the French Dassault Mirage III, until Israel received the F-16 in the late 1970s.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin, left, looks at an F-16 fighter jet that will take part in an exercise in Germany in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The squadron was the first in the world to shoot down an enemy plane with an F-16 [in 1981], and the first in the world to shoot down a MiG-23 [in 1982],” the army said.

Earlier this year, the IDF began rolling out its five-year Momentum Plan, which is meant to make the military better equipped to operate in the types of operations that it is expected to face in the coming years.

The guiding principle of the plan is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology — in order to ensure the military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah.

Though some aspects of the plan require only internal restructuring and reallocation of existing resources, many of its key parts — namely the acquisition of new missiles, drones, armored vehicles, air defense batteries, helicopters and ships — are expected to be very expensive, which will be difficult to accomplish in light of the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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