Pilot helmet films F-35 firing AIM-9 and killing enemy missile

The State of Israel has admitted the active engagement of its F-35I stealth fighter jets in the ongoing Gaza conflict. The announcement, made yesterday, reveals that these sophisticated aircraft successfully intercepted and annihilated a cruise missile in the recent past.

This marks the maiden confirmation of an F-35I downing a target of such magnitude, concurrently certifying these technologically advanced jets’ participation in the ongoing warfare. 

In a recent announcement on X, previously known as Twitter, the Israeli Air Force disclosed that their seamless control and detection systems promptly discerned a cruise missile heading towards the Israeli airspace from the southeast.

F-35I Adir is a 'monster', with its own frequency hopping EW system
Photo credit: IAF

The systems diligently tracked the cruise missile’s course, consequently releasing Adir formation’s fighter jets, which successfully neutralized it. The Israeli Air Force classifies the F-35I as ‘Adir,’ a Hebrew word implying either ‘Mighty’ or ‘The Mighty one.’

The filmed video

A succinct video, linked within the tweet, appears to provide footage from an F-35I’s helmet-mounted display, possibly its Electro-Optical Targeting System. The footage distinctly shows an aerofoil-based cruise missile pinpointed.

The discharge of what ostensibly is an AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared-oriented missile is observable, characterized by an apparent eruption of sparks and debris as the missile disembarks from the wing.

New version of the 5th-generation F-35 stealth fighter arrives in Israel for testing
Photo credit: The Drive

Upon launch, the weapon immediately takes a drastic turn to the left, eventually making contact with the target. This scene effectively illustrates the AIM-9X’s superior off-boresight engagement aptitude. 

The readiness of the Israeli Air Force

In a subsequent event reported by the Israel Defense Forces [IDF], the destruction of a surface-to-surface missile above the Red Sea, executed by the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system – referred to as Hetz in IDF parlance – followed on the heels of the F-35I’s cruise missile takedown.

Can the MQ-9 with AIM-9X missile fight air-to-air with Su-27?
Photo by David Monniaux

The Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] underscores the readiness of the Israeli Air Force [IAF] alongside its air defense network. Spanning from the northern to the southern borders, this defense stands to furnish layered protection against a spectrum of threats to the Israeli state. 

The Houthis missile?

Details regarding the interception performed by the F-35I fighter jet are yet to be disclosed, particularly concerning the precise timing, location, and the cruise missiles’ origin. Nevertheless, a suggestion of the missile being propelled “from the southeast” augments the likelihood of its deployment by the Houthi militants in Yemen, a faction backed by Iran.

Future F-35's AIM-132 Block 6 missile has new British-built seeker
Photo: MBDA UK

According to an analysis by the Times of Israel, it deduces the missile’s source to the Houthis. The IDF’s recent activities of intercepting a cluster of aerial targets, apparently drones originating from Yemen over the Red Sea, lend credibility to this conclusion.

Observations have highlighted a striking resemblance between the cruise missile under scrutiny and the Quds series of munitions employed by the Houthis. The Houthis, following suit, have disseminated video evidence purportedly showcasing cruise missiles and drones striking targets within Israeli borders. This action is allegedly a reprisal for the continued Israeli maneuvers against factions in the Gaza Strip. 

An alternate route

If these assertions hold true, the missile may have journeyed from the Houthi-dominated western regions of Yemen across the Red Sea, with the city of Eilat, located at Israel’s extreme southern end, as its intended destination.

An alternate route for the missile might involve traversing the airspace over Saudi Arabia, which leaves one to ponder why interception did not occur within Saudi territory. Saudi Arabia holds substantial expertise in neutralizing Houthi missiles and drones, with instances of employing their fighter jets to eradicate these threats.

The first documented use of the F-35 Adir

The Israeli defense forces have consistently displayed a preparedness to utilize their armory, most notably the high-tech F-35 Adir aircraft. A case in point is Israel’s recorded use of the F-35. 

As documented by BulgarianMilitary.com in 2022, Israel was the frontrunner in initiating the deployment of F-35 Adir stealth fighters, the most advanced, fifth-generation of their kind, in active combat.

This significant event occurred when Israeli units intercepted two out of three incoming Iranian drones in March of the prior year, thereby earning Israel the distinction of being the first acknowledged state to engage an adversary in an F-35-driven air combat. 

February 6

On 6 February, Israel released crucial documents, incorporating footage that recorded the successful intercept of one of Iran’s pair of drones. The source of this imagery remains unclear – it may stem from the pilot’s helmet display or the onboard electro-optical equipment of the aircraft. 

Accounts from pilots involved in the conflict provide intriguing details. According to them, the radar and ground air defense systems detected a tripartite ‘drone’ grouping from Iran, likely the Shahed-197 or Shahed-161 models. Such drones are generally perceived to be smaller, self-sustaining versions of the American RQ-170 Sentinel. Among the three drones, two were intercepted by an F-35 Adir and an electronic warfare system neutralized the remaining one. 

The Israeli defense forces argue that the initiation of these drones was a clandestine maneuver led by Iran’s proxies, operating from territories in Iraq or Syria. Furthermore, these drones were launched into an activated state. The Defense Ministry of Israel maintains these drones are often armed and form an integral part of the offensive resources of warring bodies against Israel, particularly Hamas. 

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