In a show of impressive air superiority by the Israel Defense Forces(IDF), they announced on Monday that they had intercepted and downed two Iranian Shahed 197 UAVs last year with its F-35I ‘Adir’ (the Mighty One) stealth jets. It was reported that this was the first time an F-35 anywhere in the world had destroyed an enemy UAV, showing Israel wasted no time getting their F-35s in combat.

These drones, made by reverse-engineering the American RQ-170, were reportedly flying towards Israeli airspace while making a munitions delivery to Hamas terrorists in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. According to the Israeli authorities, the drones were intercepted before they had officially entered their airspace, which implies that they were shot down in another country’s airspace.

“About a year ago, two Iranian UAVs were intercepted, carrying weapons in order to transfer them to the Hamas terrorist organization. The drones were intercepted before crossing the border into Israeli territory,” the Israeli Air Force said through a tweet. “We will not allow anyone to infiltrate the airspace and violate the sovereignty of the State of Israel.”

As the IDF reported in a newly declassified video, two drones were intercepted by their F-35 stealth jets in March of 2021. Maj. G, the Deputy Commander and formation leader of the 116th Squadron, revealed exclusive details about the interception and the procedures of the mission.

“It was the first operational interception of its kind in the world, in which an F-35 successfully intercepted an aerial target,” he said. Following up on the statement, Colonel N., Commander of the 116th Squadron during the time of the operation, explained that they had received information about a hostile aircraft approaching Israeli air space, which had prompted them to scramble their F-35I Adir fighter jets.

An Iranian Shahed 197 drone being shot down by an Israeli F-35I Adir Stealth Fighter (Screenshot from the Israeli Air Force). Source:
An Iranian Shahed 197 drone being shot down by an Israeli F-35I Adir Stealth Fighter (Screenshot from the Israeli Air Force(@IAFsite)|Twitter)

Through the historic interception, the F-35I Adir was able to show its capability to precisely detect and destroy an airborne target. It is important to note that effectively identifying and destroying these drones has become necessary for the Israeli forces as they have been the target of Iranian and Iranian proxies’ drone attacks since 2018.

During the 2018 incident, Defense Minister and former Alternate Prime Minister of Israel Benny Gantz reported that Tehran had been using Shahed 141 from the T4 airfield to transfer weaponry, specifically TNT, to terrorist operatives in Judea and Samaria. It was subsequently shot down in Beit She’an, Gantz revealed in 2021. Iranian drone attacks were also known to attack Israeli-owned (or linked) vessels in the Persian Gulf and various oil processing facilities in Eastern Saudi Arabia. The March 2021 incident was similar to the 2018 incident. It was determined through a forensic investigation of the shrapnel that the Iranian Shahed 197 was on a mission to transfer weapons to Hamas terrorists in Judea and Samaria.

“According to the forensic investigation of the debris, the [March 2021] the downed UAVs were identified as the Iranian ‘Shahed 197′ on the way to transfer munition to the Hamas terrorist organization,” said the IDF.

In just the past year, UAV attacks were so common that the IDF recorded 15 documented drone attacks and interceptions in 2021. Some of these attacks include the Iranian UAV and cruise missile strikes on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia, various attacks on oil and container ships, and the UAV attack on Abha Airport, to name a few. These attacks come with the missile and rocket attacks from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Houthi rebels, firing thousands of Qassam and Soviet Katyusha rockets into Israel, where its cities are defended by its impressive C-RAM system, the Iron Dome (Kippat Barzel in its native).

With the Israeli’s capacity to destroy these drones now known to the world, and presumably Iran, they will now think twice before using Israeli air space to support terror organizations.

These drones, which are notably smaller and lightweight than usual aircraft, have been widely used to attack enemies remotely as they are harder to detect flying at low altitudes and have small radar cross-sections. Recent breakthroughs in technology make the detection of these drones easier through the usage of EM sensors, which can exploit the sudden surge of radio signals used to communicate with the drone from its operators, or even infrared sensors and thermal cameras to detect these small aircraft under low visibility conditions.

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The F-35s have been reported to use the AN/APG-81 AESA radar, which allows the aircraft to identify and intercept various airborne threats, which according to Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for Customer Requirements and Aeronautics Gary North, are specifically designed to detect said threats that fly at low altitude as well as cruise missiles that fly at high speeds. This takedown also highlights the F-35’s pilot helmet’s technological advantages over the enemy with its night vision and thermal imagery, utilizing an electro-optical targeting system integrated with its head-up display within the helmet itself.

The F-35’s helmet alone can be considered as a technological marvel, kind of similar to those virtual HUDs we see in science fiction movies. But effectiveness does not come without a high price tag. It reportedly costs $400,000 a helmet and cannot be transferred from pilot to pilot as operators of the aircraft reportedly go through a two-day fitting process with additional checkups throughout the year to make sure that the helmet fits perfectly. We’ll leave it up to you to say whether the price tag is worth it.

The F-35 Adir stealth jets also have a low radar signature, which means that they can operate in enemy territory with a minimum chance of being detected. More so, it can evade counter missile defense systems like the Russian S-300 and S-400 as the jet can reach up to speeds of Mach 1.6.  Last February 2021, Israel signed off on purchasing F-35 fighter gets and 4 Boeing KC-46 refueling planes along with advanced munitions in an attempt to bolster their air force. It currently awaits more units of the most advanced multirole fighter jets, furthering their campaign for air superiority in the region.

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