Since receiving its first pair of F-35Is in December 2016, Israel's inventory of F-35 jets has grown at a slow and steady pace. The IDF officially cleared its first F-35 aircraft for live operations last December. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East with active F-35 aircraft that are ready for operations, the Jerusalem Post reported Monday.
Israel recently played host to the F-35 Users Working Group Conference, a conference that gathers F-35 program participants in one place. The second annual conference featured the US Air Force and Israeli, British and Dutch delegates discussing how to develop operating procedures with the F-35. Israel is considered one of leading nations in deploying the F-35 operationally. Israel is also the only nation other than the US whose engineers and maintainers are allowed to tinker directly with the F-35's weapons and command and control systems — hence the unique F-35 "I" designation.
"The purpose of the conference was to create a community of users and a common language between the countries that are receiving F-35s," the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement. The IAF used the F-35 during a combat mission for the first time in May, beating even the US as the first military to send the uber-expensive and much-maligned jet into action.
A vast majority of the F-35 exports leaving Lockheed Martin factory lines are the F-35A variant. The UK has purchased the short-take off vertical lift F-35B aircraft. Seoul and Tokyo are rumored to be interested in acquiring a few F-35B aircraft as well.