Israel to Upgrade Air Force With F-35 Advanced Aircrafts

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f-35-aircraftNot long ago, a thick cloud of rumors settled on the new, much-talked-about IDF [Israel Defense Forces] acquisition of 20 F-35’s, a fighter plane known as the Stealth produced by the American Lockheed Martin Company. There were rumors regarding production slowdowns and delays of the F-35, known as the “fifth generation fighter plane” (in contrast to the Israeli fourth-generation F-16’s). The fear is that they will reach Israel very late – too late to serve the IDF in coping with future challenges.

Lockheed Martin officials rarely circulate official statements regarding their planes. Nevertheless, Steve O’Bryan (vice president for F-35 business development) elucidated in an interview with Ma’ariv Magazine, “We will meet the deadline that we set.”

O’Bryan, an F-18 pilot by training, recently visited Israel. Among his duties in Lockheed Martin is responsibility for coordinating details of the business transaction with Israel. In a conversation with him, O’Bryan dissipates the rumors regarding postponement of the planes’ delivery date. “The various delays are not significant with regard to the overall schedule of the process,” he explains. “We will meet the deadline that was set. [However,] it is possible that some of the upgrades will be carried out at a later date in Israel.”

According to O’Bryan, the aircrafts will be handed over to Israeli air force pilots in the American Eglin Air Force Base, South Florida sometime in the second half of 2016. Israeli airmen can begin training on the spot, and will return to Israel at the beginning of 2017. The transaction includes 20 fighter planes, at the cost of approximately $2.7 billion. According to our IDF leaders, this is just the beginning. In the present budgetary reality, painful decisions will have to be made even within the army, regarding its priorities. It is impossible to afford everything on the list: the Stealth, the updated Merkava Mark IV (armored personnel carrier for the Merkava, a tank), as well as a new torpedo boat.

During his stay in Israel, O’Bryan delivered a speech at a convention of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies. He explained the revolution that the Stealth will cause [in Israel], in both functional and operational terms,out of his keen acquaintanceship with the Israeli air force. “You have one of the most advanced air forces in the world,” he noted. “When the F-35 airplanes arrive to join your fleet, you will reach another level altogether. The new plane will add much power and strength [to the air force] and allow even better confrontation with challenges.” The advantages listed by O’Bryan stem from the plane’s characteristics: it can fly under all weather conditions, day and night; it has higher maneuverability; and, perhaps most important of all, it can fly without being revealed by radar or the most sensitive, advanced instruments possessed by the countries around us.

Name and Number

Recently, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz delivered a survey speech to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Interspersed in his reports about Iran and Syria, Gantz also made an unusual statement, the kind never heard officially in the past from a high-placed IDF officer. “I have no doubt that we will need at least 2 squadrons for the F-35s,” he said. Thus he admitted that although the transaction included the new fighter plane, one squadron would ultimately not suffice. Thus, according to the Chief of Staff, the topic must be raised again at the next multi-year budgetary program called the Oz Plan, to double the quantities involved.

At the Committee, Gantz also admitted that the IDF will be forced to cope with new challenges before the Stealth planes are delivered. Nevertheless, long-term planning mandates the acquisition of the fighter planes. One example of an unforeseen regional change and challenge is the recent rise of Moslem Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi to presidency over Egypt. Egypt maintains an advanced western army, including an advanced air force with more than 450 fighter planes (200 of them are F-16s). Although no one is currently planning a war against Egypt, the Egyptian change in the regional alignment is enough to demonstrate the uncertainty that reigns in our neighborhood-and that is without even bringing up Iran.

Important Partners

For the Israel air force, the arrival of the F-35 is a very big deal, more significant than any other acquisition in the past. It was already decided that the fifth-generation Stealth squadron will be constructed in the Nevatim base. At this point, air force equipment is being re-examined (by the equipment group of the Air force and other professional agents) and the flight runways are being re-examined in order to adapt them to the new planes. The IDF is even considering creating new specifications for the underground Hardened Aircraft Shelters [HAS] where the planes are parked when not in the air. Due to the different shape of the Stealth, it will have to be ‘parked’ in custom-designed underground shelters that are different than the ones that currently house fighter planes.

Due to the political changes in the Middle East – the Arab Spring that turned everything upside down – IDF top brass feel that the Stealth is advantageous not only for deterrence purposes. In fact, many believe that the reason for acquisition of Stealths is to achieve real air superiority. “While it is true that Syria has internal problems, it simultaneously is engaged in unprecedented investments in anti-aircraft systems,” says a top-echelon military officer. “Therefore, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.”

Although the first planes will only arrive in about five years, the air force is already planning to acquire a new simulator to train the pilots in the use of the advanced aircraft. As part of the preparations for the planes, decisions will have to be made about the number of squadrons. Hence an event that may appear to be simple, really involves many internal struggles involving even former air-force officers. No less important is the new name of the aircraft. Like its brother in the air force family, the new F-35 Stealth will also receive a resoundingly Israeli name.

Quite a few defense industries in Israel are benefiting from the development of the new fighter plane, since they are involved in production of some of its components. Israel Aerospace Industries is in charge of producing wing-parts; Elbit – helmet-mounted display systems and airframe parts.

“While Israel is not a direct associate of the project, it is a very important partner nonetheless,” analyzes O’Brien, “Israel is making a big contribution to the entire plan.”

Source: Chanan Greenberg – AL MONITOR

{ Israel News Bureau}


  1. The F-35 is not known as the Stealth. Its designation is “Lightning II”

    The F-22 Raptor is larger but more stealthy than the F-35.

  2. What does the Matzav reporter know of military matters? He – like so many others in Israel – is probably doing all he possibly can to evade doing even a single second of military service.


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