Israeli Air Force to Shutter F-16 Squadron, Focus on F-35s Amid Modernization Effort

The newly announced decision to shutter the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) oldest F-16 squadron came as a direct result of the military’s large-scale, multi-year “Momentum” plan, which seeks to enhance the lethality of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and signals a targeted focus on Iran.

The IDF revealed Wednesday that IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin has moved to close the 117th First Jet Squadron in October as the IDF continues the rollout of its ambitious, expensive, multi-year plan, which was launched back in February.

“Under the multi-year ‘Momentum’ Plan, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi made a series of decisions geared toward internal efficiencies and cutting back old systems, alongside the acquiring and development of new systems,” read the IDF statement obtained by the Times of Israel. “As part of these decisions, the chief of staff decided to close a fighter jet squadron.”

Norkin notified commanders of the 117th Squadron after arriving at his decision on Tuesday.

“The squadron will continue to serve operationally and in training until the moment it is closed,” the statement noted.

The IDF expressed that by closing the F-16 squadron, the military will be able to funnel funds into fifth-generation aircraft – particularly the F-35I Adir stealth fighter jets recently purchased from Washington.

October will mark the end of the 117th Squadron’s 67-year run, which began in 1953 and included in every major war in the country’s history, according to the Times of Israel.

“The squadron was the first in the world to shoot down an enemy plane with an F-16 [in 1981], and the first in the world to shoot down a MiG-23 [in 1982],” the Israeli military detailed.

The F-16 squadron was notably involved in “Operation Opera,” the controversial 1981 airstrike conducted by the IAF on an Iraqi nuclear reactor during its construction phase. However, Norkin noted that the extent of the 117th Squadron’s “glorious heritage” is not fully known by the public, as its legacy included a number of classified operations.

Israeli Air Force F-16A Netz ‘243’, aircraft flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon in Operation Opera. This was the eighth and last to drop its bombs onto the reactor.

The IAF commander expressed that as the Momentum Plan is carried out, the IAF “will become more streamlined and continue to develop relevant and influential aerial forces.”

Sputnik reported in February that the IDF had begun laying groundwork for the effort, which is intended to “enhance lethality in the IDF, in scope and in accuracy,” over the next five years, according to the chief of staff. The Momentum Plan also called for the creation of the IDF’s “Iran Command” to keep an eye out for potential threats from Tehran.

“The directorate will pay more attention to military strategy and will focus on developing and planning a military campaign in relation to Iran,” IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman said in February regarding the new sector.

In addition to a revision of the force’s focus, the plan calls for the acquisition of new drones, armored vehicles, missiles, air defense systems, helicopters and ships.

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