Over the last 40 years, some classic American fighters have been sold to Israel. These jets, which include the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon, have been the backbone of the Israeli Air Force for a while. It seems that fighters sent to Israel are much more likely to be put through the crucible of combat.
That tradition has held true with the F-35 as well.
In May of this year, the Israelis used the F-35 in combat — marking the plane’s combat debut. Exactly which targets were hit has yet to be disclosed, but the Israeli Defense Forces did release a photo of the plane over Beirut during a conference for officers visiting from other Air Forces.
Major General Amikam Norkin
(Photo by Avneraf)
“I think that we are the first to attack with the F-35 in the Middle East,” Israeli Air Force commander, Major General Amikam Norkin, said during the conference. Norkin also noted that over 100 missiles had been fired at the Israeli planes, which suffered no losses.
While the F-15’s debut with Israel netted the plane’s first air-to-air kill, the F-35’s first bout of combat was against Syrian government forces, who are backed both by the radical Iranian regime and the Russian government. The latter has deployed a number of advanced systems, including the SA-21 Growler, the new MiG-29K carrier-based multirole fighter, the Su-34 Fullback, and the Su-35 Flanker. Russia even deployed their piece-of-crap carrier for a combat cruise in the area.
Israeli pilots were also the first to take the F-16 Fighting Falcon into combat. This plane has killmarks for six and a half enemy planes and one Iraqi reactor.
(Photo by Zachi Evenor)
The fighting between Israel and the Syrian regime also paved the way for the much-less-successful combat debut of the Russian-designed Pantsir missile system. In what also seems like tradition, Russian systems find a testing grounds in the Middle East — and fail miserably. In 1982, the Syrian military used T-72 main battle tanks in an effort to halt Israeli operations in Lebanon. The T-72s fared poorly in the battle, an initial indication that they would not live up to the hype.
The Israeli use of the F-15 and F-16, however, portended American success in Desert Storm. Could the F-35’s success be the same sort of harbinger as well? Hopefully, we’ll never find out.