Despite the general ban on international exercises in light of coronavirus crisis, On Mar. 29, the F-35I belonging to the 140 Sqn “Golden Eagle” of the Israeli Air Force and the F35As from the 34th FS “Rude Rams” of the 388th Fighter Wing from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, took part in Ex. “Enduring Lightning”.
According to IDF, the drill was permitted to take place because it will be held solely in the air, with no person-to-person contact on the ground.
The aircraft were involved in air-to-air and air-to-surface missions and were also supported by G550 “Nachshon Aitam” Conformal Airborne Early Warning (CAEW) of the 122 Squadron “Nachshon”: interestingly, no activity was carried out in “stealth mode” as photographs released after the drills clearly show both Israeli Adirs and US Lightnings carrying the radar reflectors/RCS (Radar Cross Section) enhancers.
According to the IAF, the exercise took place in the air only, no face-to-face meetings between Israeli and U.S. teams were carried out: briefing and debriefing were conducted on secure network connections as a consequence of COVID19 pandemic. This also means the U.S. F-35As that flew inside Israeli airspace were among those currently deployed to Al Dhafra, UAE, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Americans are our number one partners,” said Major T. T., head of the International Exercises section in a release on the IAF website. “It is of great importance to work with the most advanced aircraft in our territory, when we host them. It is important for the IAF to work with the Americans, leaders of the F-35 project, to see how they operate, to learn from them and to collaborate on advanced technology in the aviation world.” Major M., the exercise leader of the 140th Squadron added: “This is the second time we are flying with the US F-35s. We strive to be as connected as possible to the partners in the project – training with the Americans is excellent as they have a great deal of knowledge and experience on the subject. The exercise we performed was intimate.”
Indeed, as happened in the past with multinational projects involving more partner nations (such as the Tornado or the Eurofighter), such multi-lateral trainings are organized quite frequently, to share experiences and lessons learned between the various operators (usually, shaking hands, even though, for some times this won’t be possible because of the Coronavirus – so be prepared for more “virtual” or “social-distanced” exercises in the near future). And they also represent an opportunity to take some cool shots as those released by the Israeli Air Force after Exercise “Enduring Lightning”:
Earlier this month, the IDF called off the Juniper Cobra exercise — one of its largest international drills — in which thousands of American and Israeli soldiers were due to take part around the world.
The Israeli military also preemptively called off an exercise between American paratroopers stationed out of Italy — one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the disease — and IDF Ground Forces.