Israel Considers Reducing F-35 Buy to Address F-15/16 Upgrades

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"The IAF’s plan is to get more than 100 F-35s the minute they are available" writes David A. Fulghum in his column on Aviation Week's Defense Technology International Ares Blog. However, according to Tom Burbage, quoted by Fulghum in his article, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for the F-35. However, he says the overseas release of the first export aircraft will be no sooner than 2014. (More...)

Fulghum highlights some reservations made by an 'influential retired IAF Force general', regarding the stealth fighter's future capabilities: "Israel needs the F-35 ASAP, but it doesn’t think the aircraft is perfect by any means". Among the problems raised by the general were limitations inherent with a single pilot seat configuration, integration of indigenous weapons, such as the Python V air/air missiles and SPICE autonomous guided weapons and the limited weapon carrying capacity, dictated by the stealth considerations. Lockheed Martin argues that Lightning II is designed as a multi-role Stealth aircraft, which can be used in both day and night used as a critical force multiplier for the initial phase of a conflict. Its capability to penetrate heavy enemy air defenses virtually undetected and carry up to 5,000 pounds of weapons plus self defense missiles while maintaining full stealth capability provides a critical advantage enabling an air force to win 'Day One' engagements - gain aerial dominance even when facing sophisticated, dense ground based and airborne air defenses. However, after the first few days, when such air dominance is achieved the F-35 carry significantly more loads on external weapons pylons, configured similar to advanced F-16s.

According to Fulghum the IAF considers options for its future order of battle, including a tradeoff where the air force will reduce its F-35 fleet while upgrading existing F-15Is and F-16C/D and F-16Is with advanced weapons, avionics including advanced AESA radars and network centric capabilities, where each system contribute to 'team effort' as a force multiplier, shared throughout the combined forces over the network. Under the Israel defense Forces five year strategic force modernization program, the IAF will improve and expand its capabilities and reach, particularly addressing long range intelligence collection and strike missions.

An analysis of the capabilities provided by "Fifth Generation fighters" compared with the latest fighters from East and West, is currently in preparation and will soon be published by Defense Update.

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