Written by A. Marsov; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #4 2019, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Israel Defence Ministry is modernising the Air Force combat aircraft fleet on a ten-year period. The main part of the Israeli attack aircraft at the present stage is tactical fighters (TF) F-16 “Fighting Falcon” of various modifications, F-15C, D “Eagle” and F-15I “Ra’am” (about 300 units in total).
In addition, in order to rapidly build up the combat potential of the Air Force during the threatening period, it is planned to put into operation at least 150 F-4E “Phantom”, “Kfir” and A-4 “Hok” (these aircraft are not in operation and are in long-term storage).
The main efforts of the Israeli leadership are aimed at purchasing 50 American fifth-generation F-35A Lightning-2 TF before 2024. As of December 2018, the 140th Aviation Squadron Golden Eagle (AvB Tell el Milch) received 14 such aircraft. At the same time, according to the Western expert community, it is possible to order another 20 aircraft of this type for the Israeli Air Force, including modifications with short (vertical) take-off and landing – F-35B.
It should be noted that the enterprises of the Israeli military-industrial complex (MIC) are actively involved in the design and mass production of certain components of the fifth-generation aircraft. In particular, Elbit Systems is one of the leading developers of the HMDS (Helmet Mounted Display System) large format target designation system.
This system is part of the on-board radio electronic equipment (OEM), which provides a display of the current situation as well as a large array of additional information necessary for the pilot to simultaneously pilot the vehicle, escort, identify and defeat air/ground targets.
In addition, it is planned to establish production of wing consoles F-35 machines on the technological base of the company “Israel Aerospace Industries” (IAI).
For this purpose, it is planned to use the IAI’s production line, which previously assembled similar elements for the F-16 “Fighting Falcon”. For this purpose, the American firm Lockheed Martin has allocated at least $2 billion to the Israeli side with a 10-year contract period.
At the present stage, as part of an additional agreement between the U.S. and Israel, a modification of F-35I “Adir” is being created for the Air Force of the Jewish state. It will differ from the base version of the F-35A “Lightning-2” in increased mass of combat load, as well as in the use of FREO components and aircraft guided weapons produced by Israeli enterprises.
In addition, joint development of a special software version for the F-35I “Adir” is underway. Its implementation will make it possible to use various radio electronic components produced by the IAI’s subsidiary company “Elta” as part of the F-35I’s BREO. This equipment, produced for other types of aircraft in container version, will be installed inside the fuselage. This will keep the aircraft’s radar range low visibility.
The nomenclature of onboard arms of F-35I fighters is planned to include additionally guided aircraft bombs and air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles created by the national military-industrial complex. According to the Israel Defence Ministry leadership, these measures will reduce the dependence of the national air force on imports of high-tech products imposed by Washington.
Currently, representatives of Lockheed Martin Corporation are discussing with the customer the features of the upcoming fight tests of the new Adir. It is expected that they will start this year and will take place in Israel. The test programme is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022. In the future it is not excluded the possibility of converting all existing F-35A “Lightning-2” TI from the country’s Air Force to F-35I “Adir” standard.
At the same time, Israeli military experts note a number of shortcomings typical of American aircraft that were identified during the pilot operation of the transferred aircraft: frequent failures in the work of onboard armament as well as in logistics (ALIS). The leadership of the Department of Defence intends to address these observations during the design phase of a new aircraft modification.
It should be also noted that the Israeli Air Force Command, in order to improve the speed of maintenance of its fifth-generation fighter jets, has trained its own specialists in several additional areas required to operate the F-35A Lightning-2 systems (AvB Nevatim, Adir Training Centre).
The Israeli Armed Forces are simultaneously modernising the fourth-generation tactical fighter fleet. They are intended to ensure that the Air Force maintains a high level of operational readiness during the re-equipment of TF F-35A “Lightning 2” units, whose acquisition programme is behind schedule.
In particular, the possibility of purchasing up to 30 new F-15E Strike Eagle fighters from Boeing is under consideration. Their most likely designation in Israel is F-15IA. These machines have a lower weight of construction, including the use of an innovative remote-control system. This made it possible to increase the combat load and establish additional points of suspension of the weapon. The basis of the fighter’s BREO will be a multifunctional radar with an active phased array antenna, which has an increased range of detection of air targets, greater resolution and reliability.
The possibility of Tel Aviv receiving credit funds from international financial organisations for this purpose, guaranteed by the U.S. government, is currently being discussed. Taking into account the preparatory activities, the start of deliveries of new aircraft is not expected before 2022. At the same time, in the medium term, it is planned to upgrade all existing F-15I Ra’am combat vehicles to F-15IA level.
In total, Israel spends a third of the U.S. financial assistance on the acquisition of weapons of its aircraft fleet renewal programme. Its structure, approved by the U.S. Congress in 2018, represents annual tranches of $3.8 billion until 2028.
This will enable the Israeli Ministry of Defence to maintain the proportion of new and upgraded strike aircraft at up to 80 percent of its staff. The integration of tactical fighter jets into the unified information space of the Tzayad national armed forces, which is being created, will further improve the quality of task fulfilment.
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