For the “Negev” Squadron’s 40th birthday, we decided to give a peek into the first “Sufa” (F-16I) squadron’s best moments
Nadav Shaham | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida
The “Negev” Squadron has been operating around the clock and participating in significant missions for 40 years. It may seem like it is similar to other IAF squadrons, that all have the same ultimate goal, but its story introduces a unique history and legacy. “It is a leading squadron with perpetual operational relevance in every theatre the IAF operates in, close and far”, emphasized Lt. Col. G’, Commander of the “Negev” Squadron, which operates the “Sufa” (F-16I) jets. “We specialize in attack missions, which are at the top of our priorities”.
F-16 Pilot School
Following the integration of the “Mirage III” jets into the “Hornet” Squadron in Hazor AFB, it was decided to open a new squadron with its former “Nesher” jets: the “Negev” Squadron. A small team of pilots led by the late Maj. Amos Bar, the Squadron Commander, began preparing for its official establishment. In the summer of 1976, an official ceremony was held in Hazor AFB to mark the establishment of the new “Nesher” squadron.
After a short time, the squadron had to leave Hazor AFB, in order to move to the new Eitam AFB built in Sinai peninsula.
In 1978, the “Negev” Squadron participated in its first military operation, Operation “Litani”, in which the squadron’s jets attacked many targets in Lebanon and a year later, the squadron integrated the “Mirage III” jet. “The squadron was sort of an academy for future F-16 pilots”, said Eliezer Ya’ari, a journalist, author and reservist of the squadron.
Squadron in the Making
In 1981 the squadron underwent a significant change that came from an unexpected source. As a result of the Khomeini revolution in Iran, the U.S canceled the purchase transaction of 75 F-16A/B jets that were supposed to be sold to Iran. The IAF recognized the opportunity and managed to sign the influential deal which led to the establishment of three “Netz” (F-16A/B) squadrons in the IAF.
The concept that a high quality squadron should be established in southern Israel and in close proximity to the southern front began to consolidate. Then IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. (Res’) David Ivry, chose the “Negev” Squadron for the mission and decided that it will re-open in Ramon AFB, the new AFB being built in the Negev desert. On February of 1982, the squadron’s 12 “Netz” jets took off from Ramat-David AFB for Ramon and in April of the same year, the squadron successfully passed its operational fitness test.
Not much time passed until the squadron faced its first test: The “First Lebanon” War. In addition to striking targets, the squadron also participated in two aerial battles, or “Dogfights” in which it downed 5 enemy aircraft. One of them was the battle led by the late Col. Ilan Ramon, in which the squadron’s jets faced four Syrian MiGs and downed two of them using AIM-9 “Sidewinder” AA missiles. The third jet was downed by Brg. (Res) Uri Gil with his cannon, a shoot down which went down in IAF history.
Col. Ilan Ramon & Col. (Res’) Amos Yadlin in the squadron | Archive Photo
A retrospective look proves that the squadron and its members are used to new beginnings. Following the signing of the “Sufa” (F-16I) purchase deal in 2002, it was decided that the “Negev” Squadron would be the first to receive them. The establishment team began working, with a primary goal of establishing a squadron that will be a sort of prototype for the other “Sufa” Squadrons to come.
In February, 2004, five months after the aerial and ground crews took off for conversion training in the U.S, a pair of “Sufa” jets landed in Ramon AFB. The next day, less than 24 hours later, you could hear the roar of the “Sufa” engines and see them zooming in the sky, off for a training sortie. “Even though I had dealt with the project for two years and knew every system on the jet, they still astounded me”, testified Lt. Col. (Res) Yuval, who was the Project Officer in the “Sufa” establishment team. “It felt like they took everything good in the IAF and combined it into one great aircraft”.
“It felt like they took everything good in the IAF and combined it into one great aircraft” | Archive Photo