Israel’s First F-35s Delivered to VIP Reception

 - December 15, 2016, 10:34 AM
One of two F-35As that were delivered to Nevatim airbase in Israel on December 12. (photo: Israeli MoD)

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) is aiming to go operational on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter by December next year. Its first two aircraft were delivered from Fort Worth, Texas, to Israel's Nevatim airbase on December 12. They were greeted by a host of VIPs, including the Israeli President, Prime Minister and Defense Minister; the U.S. Secretary of Defense; the Israeli Chief of the General Staff; the IAF Commander; and the president of Lockheed Martin.

“Our goal is to obtain supremacy in every theater: in the air, in the sea, on the ground and in the cyber arena. The ‘Adir’ jets will strengthen these abilities,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The IAF has named its new acquisition "Adir meaning “The Mighty One.” Israel is the only country in the Middle East being allowed to receive F-35s. At the arrival ceremony, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter pledged to maintain Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over potential adversaries. “F-35s will help the U.S. and Israel Air Force operate more jointly and more effectively. Together, we will dominate the skies,” he said.

The F-35s for Israel are being flown directly to the country for flight training; those for other F-35 partner nations that have already received F-35s remain in the U.S. for this purpose. The first pair for the IAF was ferried by U.S. pilots via Lajes AFB, refueled by U.S. Air Force tankers. However, a cadre of pilots from the first IAF squadron—No 140 "Golden Eagles"—did conduct 32 simulator sorties each at Luke AFB over a four-month period. This allowed two of them to make their first F-35 flights from Nevatim just 16 hours after the new jets arrived. American F-35 instructor pilots have been sent to Nevatim to aid the training. The IAF is planning to conduct 50percent of its F-35 pilot training in simulators, in the U.S. until 2018 and thereafter in a purpose-built facility at Nevatim.  

Israel’s "acquisition" of F-35s is effectively a military aid transfer from the U.S., and most of the 50 that the IAF is expected to receive will be paid for from within the new 10-year, $38 billion security assistance pact that Washington agreed with Tel Aviv last September. Lockheed Martin will receive an average of $110 million per aircraft from the U.S. government. The first 19 to arrive will be F-35A models, whereas the second batch of 14 will be delivered to the F-35I standard with Israeli-specific avionic, C4I and other systems. The 19 F-35As will subsequently be modified as F-35Is. The IAF has not yet formally committed to a further 17 aircraft that would form a third squadron. There has been speculation that these could be F-35B STOVL versions, to provided added operational insurance in case of an disabling attack on Israeli air bases.

In another departure from the procedures being established for the main F-35 international partners, the U.S. will allow Israel to perform depth maintenance (eg D-checks) on its F-35s in-country. A new facility is also being added at Nevatim for this purpose, and the airbase is also having new hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) constructed to house the "Adirs." 

According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Lockheed Martin (LM) will place “reciprocal procurements” worth $3.8 billion with Israeli industry for the F-35 “acquisition.” LM said recently that $778 millionworth of work has been contracted to date. The procurements include the helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) that is being supplied for all F-35s by a joint venture in the U.S. between Elbit Systems and Rockwell Collins. They also include a planned total of 800 wing pairs to be produced over 20 years by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) at a rate of four per month. The production line for this effort was established in November 2014. Five other Israeli companies are providing radio amplifiers; simulation software; and airframe parts. “Israel’s innovative technologies have helped define this aircraft and its capabilities,” noted Secretary of Defense Carter.