“Israel continues to win unique concessions surrounding its participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The country’s increasingly independent development could ultimately produce a version of the aircraft specifically suited to its needs that differs significantly from Lockheed Martin’s existing offerings.” (The Drive)
On Dec. 6, 2017, the Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 Lightning II jets, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, operational. The Israeli Air Force has so far received 9 aircraft that have been assigned to the 140 Sqn (“Golden Eagle”) at Nevatim airbase. The first two aircraft were delivered on Dec. 12, 2016. Five have been chosen for the assessment that has been conducted to declare the fleet operational. The Israeli F-35 is the first outside of the United States to be declared operational, preceded only by the U.S Marine Corps and U.S Air Force. (The Aviationist, December 6, 2017)
Israel originally wanted a different fighter, and pressed the USA for F-22EX aircraft, in order to maintain the IAF’s traditional requirement of regional air superiority. Ultimately, America’s shut-down of its F-22 program removed that option.
Joshua Shani, the retired Israeli Air Force Brigadier General who led the development and production plan for the advanced aircraft F-35, told Globes, the Israeli business daily:
“Yes, it’s amazingly stealthy. Simply amazing”…. “I was in the US, and I met with several senior Israel Air Force pilots who went there for special training in flying the aircraft. We met half an hour after they finished an operational training mission with the F-35 on a simulator. They told me that it’s impossible, there is no such plane, and believe me, these guys know planes. They fly F-15s and F-16s, and they’re experienced. Their eyes sparkled. One of them told me something I can’t get out of my head: ‘This plane isn’t fair to the enemy. It doesn’t give him a chance.’ That’s so right. It’s so stealthy, so sophisticated, and so easy to operate. Such an aircraft really is impossible, but it exists. The US built it, and they’re giving us the money to buy it from them. Our Air Force wants it, because it can replace the outmoded planes and improve capabilities, because the Air Force will have the world’s best aircraft. “
Part of the reasoning for acquiring the F-35 is tied to the concern that Israel’s enemies could also end up with their own fifth generation fighter jets. China’s J-20 stealth fighter was officially unveiled just last month, while the Russian Sukhoi T-50 is expected to enter service in 2018.
It is estimate that delivery of 50 F-35 planes to Israel can be completed by 2022. The time table can also be brought forward, with delivery being completed by 2021. Other than the US, Israel will be the first country to have an operational squadron of F-35s.
The Israeli version of the F-35 will be equipped with an Israeli made, unique and secret electronic warfare, command and control, and communications systems that will make the Israeli plane better for fulfilling the needs of the Israel Air Force. Israel wants its own independent electronic warfare systems so it could be adapted quickly to changes in the region. “If a new Russian missile is brought to the region, these systems can change the capabilities of its planes within a short time and adapt them to a new threat in the area. It takes the US months to make such changes, and we don’t always have this amount of time.” said Joshua Shani
The Israeli air force has several reasons for purchasing the airplane acquisition:
- The need to be at the forefront of technology, the first country in the region to equip itself with the most advanced jet the Americans can offer, a fifth generation fighter jet, on a relatively quick timetable after the United States started equipping its own forces. It sends a message to its regional neighbors, reinforces Israel’s advantage and contributes to deterrence.
- The innovative jet’s evasiveness is supposed to silence the enemy’s radar systems, paving the way for more massive attacks of planes from other models. Israeli military officials also praise the F-35’s ability to operate very far from Israeli territory, being less dependent on the cloak of protection supporting the current generation of fighters.
- There will be a need in the coming years to retire from service some of the IAF planes. The replacement, according to senior air force officials, is found in a mixture of the F-35 and the likely continued use of dozens of F-15s. The IAF currently flies 27 F-15I “Raam” Strike Eagles and 102 F-16I “Soufa” fighters as its high-end strike force. Another 72 F-15 A-D Eagle and 224 F-16 A-D Falcon models form the backbone of its force, making Israel the world’s 2nd largest F-16 operator behind the United States. The plan was that Israel would phase out its F-16A “Netz” models in particular. A smaller number of new F-35s would first replace the Netz fighters, and then replace more advanced F-16 A-D models.
- The overall number of manned airplanes will continued to decrease, but according to the air force, it should not be reduced below a certain floor, which requires additional equipping. Military officials assert that there is no substantial difference between the price of an F-35 in the new deal and the price of an F-15. The jet’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, claims that the price will fall within three years from approximately $110 million per plane to about $80 million each. The cost of a modern F-15 now stands at over $100 million.
Unlike many of the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 customers, Israel pushed for and received permission to integrate a number of local technologies into their aircraft. Israel made the case that it lived in a state of near-constant conflict and this required the country’s F-35 fleet to not only stand apart logistically but technologically.
One key technology is the integration of an Israeli-developed command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) system into the Adir. The stand-alone system draws sensor data from the aircraft but otherwise does not interact with the F-35’s computer system. From there, the C4I system pushes out the data to other Israeli military assets, particularly nearby fighters, via locally made data links to help detect, prioritize and attack enemy targets.
The C4I technology is particularly necessary in light of the immense rocket threat to Israel—Hezbollah alone is thought to have up to 150,000 tactical rockets it can shower on the small country. In any future war the number of rocket-launch locations could be overwhelming—that is, unless Israel can rapidly draw in launch-location data, process it and quickly churn out a prioritized target list for the Israeli Air Force to hunt down.
The F-35I will also carry Israeli-designed missiles. The jet will carry defense contractor Rafael’s SPICE 1000 precision-guided bomb instead of the GPS-guided JDAM bomb. SPICE (“Smart Precise Impact Cost Effective”) 1000 is an add-on package that bolts both satellite and an electro-optical guidance systems on an unguided Mk. 83 thousand-pound bomb. This allows SPICE 1000 to not only attack targets based on GPS coordinates, but to also insert a “man in the loop” who can manually place the bomb on target—or abort the strike if necessary. SPICE 1000 can glide up to sixty-two miles to target and is so accurate it can place half of all bombs within nine feet of their target.
The F-35 will also carry the Python-5 infrared air-to-air missile instead of the American AIM-9X Sidewinder. The missile’s ability to lock on after launch means the missile can be launched from the F-35’s internal weapons bay and lock onto enemy aircraft under its own power. Another IAF requirement was also to add a pair of 425-gallon fuel tanks to the Adir that extend the plane’s total fuel—and range—by approximately 36 percent. While the addition of an external fuel tank would compromise the F-35’s stealth, a source told Aviation Week & Space Technology the fuel tank could be used during early phases of an air operation where stealth was not necessary, and jettisoned after use. (The Ntional Interest)