F-35I Scores First Cruise Missile Shootdown

A snapshot of a video released by the Israel air force shows the moment an air-to-air missile launched by an F-35I struck an incoming cruise missile on Oct. 31, 2023.

Credit: Israel air force

An Israeli F-35I scored the fighter type’s first known air-to-air kill on Oct. 31, shooting down a cruise missile believed to be launched at Israel by the Houthi militia in Yemen, the Israel Defense Force said on Nov. 2.

The Israeli air force detected the missile coming from the southeast and scrambled F-35Is, which Israel nicknames the “Adir,” to intercept the weapon.

Surveillance systems “followed the trajectory of the cruise missile and launched fighter jets from the Adir formation, which successfully intercepted it,” the Israel air force said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The F-35 has been used in combat by several countries, but all previous missions have been aimed at striking targets on the ground.

The U.S. military has demonstrated how the sensors on board the F-35 could be used to pass targeting coordinates to a Patriot surface-to-air missile system to shoot down cruise missile targets. Shooting down cruise missiles is a traditional air-to-air mission for fighters, but until Oct. 31 the global F-35 fleet had not had an opportunity.

Video footage released by Israel of the intercept shows an apparent cruise missile flying at a low level. The missile passes out of the frame briefly. A second after the missile reenters the frame, a second object enters on a head-on course. The second object appears to trigger a proximity fuse within several meters of the enemy missile, which is destroyed by the explosion.

“The active defense against missiles is part of the defense’s complete response, which is also based on the directives of the Home Front Command,” the Israel air force said.

Unlike the relatively small, short-range and unguided rockets launched by Hamas militants at Israel, the cruise missile launched from Israel’s southeast poses a new threat.  

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.