The IDF on Thursday held the opening ceremony of the "Lions of the South" Squadron (116th Squadron) at the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel. The ceremony was led by the Commanding Officer of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.

The "Lions of the South" squadron is the second F-35i "Adir" fighter jet squadron, joining the "Golden Eagle" Squadron (140th Squadron) which was opened in 2016 and declared operational in December 2017.

The 116th Squadron (formerly known as "Defenders of the South") was first established in 1956 at the "Tel-Nof" AFB and over the years operated the "Mustang", "Mystère", "Eagle" and "Skyhawk" aircrafts. In 1983, the squadron moved to the "Nevatim" AFB, while operating the "Skyhawk" aircraft and became the first squadron to operate from that base. In 2003, the squadron began operating the "Fighting Falcon” (F-16) aircraft until 2015, when the squadron was closed. Today, the squadron was reopened and converted to an F-35i “Adir” squadron.

The F-35i "Adir" fighter is the world's most advanced stealth aircraft, with real-time processing, control and situational awareness abilities, which makes it a multi-purposed weapon, both defensively and offensively, employed for various tasks in various areas with groundbreaking abilities.

The continued acquisition of the F-35i "Adir" fighter jet expresses the quality of the military cooperation between Israel and the US, which continues to produce excellent results in procurement and development processes. The IAF is one of the only forces in the world which employs the F-35i "Adir" fighter jet operationally, alongside the US, Italian, and UK air forces.

The capabilities of the F-35i "Adir" add another layer to the operational and strategic capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, which will ensure its superiority in all missions, most importantly the defense of Israeli airspace and its security. Over the past year, the "Adir" fighter jets also participated in several international exercises in cooperation with foreign armies and air forces, including the "Tri-Lightning" and "Blue Flag" exercises.

Commanding Officer of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said at Thursday’s ceremony, “In a few moments we will all salute, and with excitement which only a combat family can understand, we will once again spread the squadron flag.

“Over 60 years, generations of pilots and technicians, officers, NCO’s and soldiers fought in all wars and operations, and trained generations of air crew fighters,” he continued.

“Many of us carried the squadron's symbol on our chest. I did so proudly as a trainee of the Advanced Training Course, and I too ‘caught’ the squadron's spirit which became a known thing in the Air Force. You stand in this parade - and you are looked up to by many.”

“You are in charge of the strategic abilities of Israel. This is a sacred task that only a focused team with a deep sense of commitment will fulfill – this is your task. The Air Force carries a great deal of responsibility every day. From now on, Squadron 116 is again becoming part of the strategic arm, part of our qualitative advantage over our enemies. The challenges we face - many and varied. Now, we are stronger.”