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F-35 makes combat debut

F-35 Beiruit

The image of an F-35I over Beirut used in IAF commander Major General Amikam Norkin’s presentation. The radar reflectors are on the upper fuselage just in front of the vertical stabilisers. (IDF)

The Israel Defence Force says it has used its F-35I ‘Adir’ fighters in recent combat operations, marking the combat debut for the long-awaited 5th generation fighter.

During a May 22 speech to visiting air chiefs at a conference in Israel, IAF commander Major General Amikam Norkin showed a picture of an F-35I flying over Beirut.

“I think we are the first to attack with F-35 in the Middle East,” he said. “I’m not sure about other areas, but as you can see here, we already attacked, and this is the first time that we are talking about this issue.

“Our main goal for the short term is to integrate the 5th generation airplane with the 4th generation squadrons,” he said. “[It’s] a huge challenge and I think we started to understand the huge potential of this platform.”

Maj Gen Norkin’s claims were backed up by an IDF tweet later that day that said, “The Adir planes are already operational and flying in operational missions. We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity.”

F-35I

An IDF F-35I Adir. (IDF)

No details about what missions the F-35Is may have taken part in were given, although one Israeli media report suggested they participated in an April 28 attack on Aleppo in Syria.

Interestingly, the photo of the F-35I over Beirut shows the aircraft fitted with at least two Luneburg lenses, small radar reflectors fitted to the top and underside of the F-35’s fuselage to make it more visible to radar when operating in controlled airspace.

Because of this, some analysts have claimed the IDF image is a fake, while others have suggested the reflectors may have been fitted intentionally so as to not allow the numerous Russian intelligence systems in the region to correctly analyse the F-35’s true radar cross section.

Australias first F-35A Lightning II aircraft 01 and 02 in transit to the Australian International Airshow in Avalon. *** Local Caption *** The Australian Defence Force is proud to be part of the 2017 Australian International Airshow, with displays showcasing the latest military aviation assets and technology.

A edited image of an F-35A showing the location of the upper fuselage radar reflectors. The underside reflectors are located just aft of the main gear bays.

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