The drills, which run from Sunday until Wednesday, rehearse both offensive and defensive operations by a bevy of aircraft, air defense units and ground support forces, the Times of Israel reported. They include fighter jets, helicopters, cargo planes, drones and the IAF’s version of the Lockheed Martin F-35A, which it’s dubbed the F-35I Adir, which means “mighty one” in Hebrew.
The primary focus of the exercises is to run through how the IAF will respond to a conflict with Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia whose tunnels crossing the de facto border with Israel were found by the Israel Defense Forces last December. In 2006, an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon was fought to a standstill by Hezbollah.
However, the practice ops also explored a variety of other scenarios, including fighting in the Gaza Strip and Syria, both of which the IAF has bombed recently. Other scenarios involved responding to a massive missile or rocket bombardment of Israel itself and ran through potential battlefield problems such as disabled or intermittent communications and damaged runways.
“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 told reporters earlier this week.
The F-35Is added “lethality and multi-role capabilities” to the air forces in the war games, the official said. “We did not have these capabilities before.”
The scenarios also include simulations in which the enemy possesses S-300 and S-400 air defense systems: Russian-built missile launchers supplied to Syria and being sold to an increasing number of other foreign buyers, including Turkey, India and China. The US recently torpedoed a deal to sell Turkey 100 F-35As after Ankara refused to back off an S-400 purchase from Moscow. Pentagon leaders fear that having the two systems operating together could expose the F-35’s weaknesses to US - or Israeli - adversaries using the missile system.
However, Israel has received unique license from Lockheed to modify the F-35s it buys, of which it now has 14 but will eventually own 50. One of those modifications includes a custom outer wing designed to further minimize its stealthy low profile, Sputnik reported.
It’s notable that while this is the first time the IAF has practiced war with its Adirs, it’s likely the service has already used them in combat at least twice in Syria, to carry out airstrikes against Damascus International Airport in January and the industrial city of Sheikh Najjar in March.
An IAF officer told Ynet the ground crews were getting good practice with refueling and rearming aircraft, which they aimed to do in less than one hour before the planes return to the skies.
“Our crews are working like a Formula 1 [pit crew],” the officer said.