Enduring Lightning III exercise brings together U.S., Israeli air forces

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs and Israeli Air Force F-35I Adirs fly in formation during exercise Enduring Lightning III over Israel, Oct. 12, 2020. The United States and Israeli air forces train to maintain a ready posture to deter against regional aggression while forging strategic partnerships across the U.S. Central Command and U.S. European Command areas of responsibility. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United States Emirates–U.S. Air Forces Central and the Israeli Air Force conducted the exercise “Enduring Lightning III” on Oct. 12, 2020, in the skies over Israel.  It is the third joint exercise between the two countries involving the F-35 aircraft.

The IAF’s 116th Squadron, which operates the “Adir” (F-35I) fighter jet, trained alongside the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Additionally, the 340th EARS assigned to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, participated as well. The 421 EFS operates the F-35A Lightning II, while the 908th EARS and 340th EARS provided aerial refueling support with a KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker.

Other IAF units participating included the 122nd Squadron, with its “Nachshon” aircraft providing air traffic control support, and the 115th Squadron, providing a simulated adversary force with its F-16I aircraft. 

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs and Israeli Air Force F-35I Adirs fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker during exercise Enduring Lightning III over Israel, Oct. 12, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

“The Enduring Lightning exercises provide invaluable opportunities for both AFCENT and our Israeli partners to improve readiness and strengthen relationships,” said Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central) commander.  “This partnership has been built on trust and developed over decades of mutual cooperation, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to regional stability.”

The opportunity to once again train alongside the IAF also provided an immeasurable experience for the U.S. F-35s, said Lt. Col. Stephen Redmond, 421st EFS commander. 

“This is the second time this deployment that the Black Widows (421st EFS) have had the opportunity to fly, train, and learn with [Israeli] F-35I’s,” said Redmond. “Not only do our young officers get an opportunity to be a mission commander of a multi-national exercise, but most importantly, they build relationships with Israeli fighter pilots that they will keep for the duration of their careers.”

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels a U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II in support of exercise Enduring Lightning III over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, Oct. 12, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Duncan C. Bevan)

During the exercise, the F-35s trained to their primary mission set of Offensive Counter Air. Both U.S. and Israeli F-35s faced exercise surface and air adversaries with the goal of achieving an objective at a simulated target area.  

USAFCENT strives to be an indispensable partner in the region, working to maximize regional capabilities in regards to mutual security concerns. 

“The partner nation integration exercises have improved our ability to influence stability in the region and sustain our power projection capabilities,” said Col. Kristen Thompson, 380th Expeditionary Operations Group commander. “I’m proud of our Airmen in their ability to increase the cooperation between our two air forces.”

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