Three more F-35 fighter jets landed in southern Israel on Sunday, the army announced, giving Israel at least a dozen of the state-of-the-art stealth aircraft.
The F-35 jets, known in Israel by their Hebrew name, the “Adir,” meaning mighty or great, arrived at the Israeli Air Forces’ Nevatim base, southeast of Beersheba, on Sunday afternoon.
The stealth fighters joined the nine others that make up the IAF’s Golden Eagle Squadron.
“In a short while, the aircraft will begin taking part in the IAF’s operational activity,” the air force said.
Israel began receiving the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter from the United States in December 2016. The aircraft were declared operational approximately a year later.
Last month, the head of the air force revealed that Israel had used the fighter jets operationally, which the IDF said made it the first military do so.
Israel has, for now, agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighters in total from the United States, which are scheduled to be delivered in installments of twos and threes by 2024.
On May 22, IAF commander Amikam Norkin revealed that the F-35 fighter jet conducted airstrikes on at least two occasions.
“The Israeli Air Force has twice carried out strikes with the F-35, on two different fronts,” Norkin told a conference of air force chiefs visiting Israel from around the world.
“I think that we are the first to attack with an F-35 in the Middle East — I’m not sure about other areas,” he said.
The Israeli military later went further, saying that this was the first operational use of the fighter jet in the world, not only in the Middle East.
The air force chief did not specify when those two attacks took place, but said the F-35 did not carry out strikes during Israel’s massive bombardment of Iranian targets in Syria on May 10.
The fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the Israeli military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.
Detractors, however, balked at the high price tag for the aircraft: approximately $100 million apiece. (The manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35.)