The Israeli Air Force is holding a large-scale multi-day exercise simulating combat action on multiple fronts, the army said Tuesday, with the air force’s F-35s taking part for the first time.
The drill, which began Sunday and ends Wednesday, involves fighter jets, helicopters, cargo planes, drones, air defense units and ground support forces. It simulates simultaneous fighting in the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon.
It includes scenarios involving an enemy armed with advanced technology, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 missile defense systems; a home front under massive missile attacks; and challenges such as damaged runways and disabled IAF communications centers.
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The drill is primarily focused on the northern arena, with threats posed by the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon and Iranian forces in Syria.
An Israeli Air Force F-35 is seen during an air force exercise, June 2019. (IDF Spokesperson)
Forces were also being tested on their ability to carry out strategic bombings while minimizing harm to innocent people in the vicinity.
“We are training at very high intensity with a challenging, thinking enemy that possesses technology beyond what currently exists in the arena,” a senior air force official said.
The official said the new F-35s provided and added value of “lethality and multi-role capabilities…We did not have these capabilities before.”
The IAF has acknowledged receiving from the US-based Lockheed Martin defense contractor at least 14 F-35 fighter jets of the 50 that have been ordered. These are scheduled to be delivered in installments of twos and threes by 2024.
An Israeli Air Force plane is seen during an air force exercise, June 2019. (IDF Spokesperson)
In mid-2018 the IAF announced that it had used the stealth fighter jet in combat, which it said made it the first air force in the world to do so.
The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the 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 (Lockheed Martin says the cost is expected to go down as more countries purchase the F-35).
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.