IDF to shutter F-16 fighter jet squadron, making room for new aircraft

As part of military’s Momentum Plan, Ramat David airbase’s 117th First Jet Squadron to close, ending its 67-year history

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An Israeli F-16 of the 117th Squadron takes off at Ramat David Airbase. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An Israeli F-16 of the 117th Squadron takes off at Ramat David Airbase. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces announced it is closing a squadron of F-16 fighter jets later this year to streamline the air force and free up funds for more advanced aircraft as part of its Momentum Plan.

Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin decided Tuesday to close the 117th First Jet Squadron, which flies F-16 jets out of northern Israel’s Ramat David airbase. It will be closed in October, the military said.

“Under the multi-year ‘Momentum’ Plan, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi made a series of decisions geared toward internal efficiencies and cutting back old systems, alongside the acquiring and development of new systems. As part of these decisions, the chief of staff decided to close a fighter jet squadron,” the IDF said in a statement Wednesday.

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

The military said Norkin picked the 117th squadron as the unit to be closed and notified its commanders.

“The squadron will continue to serve operationally and in training until the moment it is closed,” the IDF said.

Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin shakes hands with new air defense officers at a graduation ceremony on October 30, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

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 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.

“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.

Norkin praised the squadron’s “glorious heritage,” saying its history included both known and classified operations.

“We will become more streamlined and continue to develop relevant and influential aerial forces,” he 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, something that will be difficult to accomplish in light of the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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