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International F-35 Conference Release date 18.11.2018
Studying the fifth generation: this week, an international F-35 user group was held in Israel. Dozens of participants arrived from around the world in order to share ideas and discuss modes of operation
Illy Pe'ery | Photography: Mike Yudin

For the first time in Israel: last week (Thursday), the annual F-35 user group came to an end after two intense days of mutual studying and discourse. Dozens of participants arrived from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands in order to share ideas regarding the world's most advanced fifth-generation aircraft.

"We are very happy to host the third international user group led by the USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) – being a part of this community is a great honor. The F-35 isn't just an aircraft, it's an entirely new operational concept", emphasized Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, Head of the IAF Headquarters. "The reason we hold this yearly conference isn't just in order to learn about the aircraft, but also in order to see the differences in operation between the various air forces, share ideas and see how the F-35 can serve any need".

Dynamic Aircraft
The conference commenced with a day focusing on discourse. They discussed the status of the F-35 in each of the respective countries as well as its technical issues and possible solutions. "At the beginning of this year, our leadership decided that we need to have a division in charge of collaboration with countries which have the F-35 aircraft", elaborated Col. Howke, a representative of the USAF Europe HQ. "The aircraft provides significant advantages, whether through its low-observable nature or its high avionic capabilities. It's a dynamic aircraft, and discussing it as a forum is beneficial for all involved".

The following day, the user group arrived at Nevatim AFB – home to the 140th ("Golden Eagle") Squadron which has operated the "Adir" (F-35I) aircraft since its arrival in Israel two years ago. "The IAF has 12 'Adir' aircraft, dozens of pilots, 60 technicians and four simulators. The air force faces numerous operational topics, and our goal is to qualify the pilots and provide them with the operational capabilities which will allow them to handle the challenges of the Middle East", said Brig. Gen. Eyal Grinboim, Commander of Nevatim AFB.

Discussing Future Pilots
After learning about the IAF, the 140th Squadron and the "Adir" Division, the participants moved onto the "Adir" pilot instruction center, where they experienced simulators and the IAF's growing instruction division.

A main point of discussion was the future training of fifth-generation pilots. In most of the countries which operate the F-35, the pilots arrive at their squadron right after concluding their training at the academy. In contrast, the IAF's "Adir" pilots are mostly ranked Captain and Major, having been trained in the Flight Academy and gained operational experience in fourth-generation aircraft – only after several years did they undergo conversion to the new aircraft.

"Training an 'Adir' pilot takes between four and six months. We take fourth-generation pilots and teach them the new systems, missions and capabilities", elaborated Maj. G', commander of the instruction center. "Our hopes for the future are that fifth-generation pilots will come straight from the Flight Academy, but the gap between the Flight Academy and the 'Adir' aircraft is still big".

Changing the Game
The conference may have ended, but the participants left wanting more. As more countries are due to join the work group over the coming years and the IAF continues to grow, it is certain that the fourth work group is just around the corner.

"Most of our discourse is pilot-to-pilot. The more tricks I have in my tool bag, as well as experiences - whether my own or someone else's - these will help me analyze the situation and make choices that I haven’t thought of before", concluded Col. Howke. "We realize that this aircraft is capable of more than any other aircraft before – it's truly a game changer. The capabilities are unprecedented. It starts from the intel, goes through command & control and the mission command, and to the execution of any type of attack you might have to go. This is where the conference's importance lies – it allows fifth-generation pilots to take off on the mission with a better understanding of their situation".