An Israeli woman became the first of her gender and nationality to fly the advanced fifth-generation stealth fighter jet in combat, and only the second female in the world to fly the F-35 in combat.
Cpt. ‘S (she must remain anonymous for security reason) initially flew F-16s before being transferred to the F-35. She began flying combat missions in the 116th squadron, nicknamed “Lions of the South” based out of Nevatim in southern Israel.
In 1949, Israel’s army became the first military in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women, and in 1951, the first woman, Yael Rom, became the first female to complete the pilot’s course and in 2000, Lt. Roni Zuckerman, became the first woman to graduate as a combat fighter pilot.
In June, Capt. Emily Thompson, callsign “Banzai”, flew an F-35 out of Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and into combat. The F-35 comes in three different variants and is the most expensive weapon system in the history of the US military. The anticipated total development and procurement cost is approximately $400 billion and has an operating and maintenance cost of around $1.2 trillion.
In 2010, Israel signed an order to purchase an initial 19 F-35As, receiving the first planes in 2016, one year after they became operational in the US military. The IAF designated the F-35 the Hebrew name Adir, which translates as ‘awesomeness’. There are currently 27 F-35s in the IAF with another 23 expected by 2024.
The Israeli Air Force declared the F-35 operationally capable in December 2017 and in the following July, Arab media reported that at least three IAF F-35s flew to Iran’s capital Tehran and back. Iran responded by firing the air force chief and commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. In May 2018, the head of the IAF said that their F-35 had been deployed in two attacks on two battlefronts, marking the first combat operation of an F-35 by any country. In July 2019, Israel reportedly expanded its strikes against Iranian missile shipments and IAF F-35s allegedly struck Iranian targets in Iraq twice. These missions significantly pit the F-35 against Rusian weapons systems.