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The Israeli Air Force (IAF) attended the latest ‘Red Flag’ air exercise with its F-35I Adir fifth-generation fighters for the first time, the US Air Force (USAF) reported on 10 April 2023.

‘Red Flag 23-2’ took place out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada from 13 to 24 March 2023. Given that ‘Red Flag’ exercises are designed to provide the pilots of the United States and its allies with realistic training scenarios, it is especially interesting that the IAF attended with its Adirs, since in May 2018 the IDF declared them to be the first F-35s to have flown combat sorties.

“The F-35 Adir is a game-changer for us,” the commander of the IAF’s 140 Squadron was quoted by the USAF as saying. “Its advanced capabilities make it an ideal platform for participating in complex exercises like ‘Red Flag’. We’re excited to showcase the capabilities of this aircraft to our American partners and learn from the experience of flying alongside them.”

An IAF pilot climbs into an F-35I Adir prior to a ‘Red Flag 23-2’ mission at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on 16 March 2023. (Photo: USAF)

During ‘Red Flag 23-2’ the IAF Adirs trained alongside F-35As deployed out of Hill Air Force Base (AFB) in Utah: home of the USAF’s 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings. These units were the USAF’s first combat-capable F-35A units.

“The Israeli F-35 participation in ‘Red Flag 23-2’ is another step forward for the US and its allies in the transition to the next level of air warfare,” said Colonel Jared Hutchinson, commander of the USAF’s 414th Combat Training Squadron. “It is a rare opportunity for warfighters from both countries to integrate our most advanced capabilities.

“As the Fifth-Generation Center of Exellence, Nellis AFB is uniquely capable of hosting F-35 units on the ground and challenging them in the air,” Col Hutchinson added.

The IAF first participated in ‘Red Flag’ in 1978 but had not attended any ‘Red Flags’ for the last seven years. However, US and Israeli forces have recently exercised together in the bilateral ‘Juniper Oak 23-2’ exercise, held in the Mediterranean in January 2023, and the latest ‘Juniper Falcon’ exercise, held in February 2023 out of sites in Israel and Germany.

Peter Felstead