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It’s Almost Invisible — Is It Indomitable?

Eliezer Schulman

Israel Takes Delivery of the F-35 Warplane

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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CUTTING EDGE Israel’s qualitative military advantage gets a boost with the new F-35

W hen Lieutenant Colonel Yishai Yotam, commander of the Golden Eagle squadron, took off last Tuesday from the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev in an F-35A fighter jet, nicknamed the Adir in Israel, he became the first Israeli to pilot the newest addition to its already formidable air force. Israel plans to purchase up to 50 F-35s in the next few years, at a cost of about $5.5 billion, or about a year and a half’s worth of its new $3.8 billion annual US military aid package.

When the photo opportunities surrounding the arrival of the first two F-35s ended, the real work began in private. The F-35A will first be fully operational in 2019, when they are outfitted with Israeli technological systems and pilots complete their flight training, which has already been underway for several years in the United States.

Much has been said about the F-35’s unique abilities and what it means to the IAF and Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East, which the US is committed to keeping intact. It’s a fifth generation combat plane — a stealth bomber — constructed with special materials that allow it to safely enter enemy airspace undetected by radar. Sources in the defense establishment hint, in cautious language, that it provides an answer to Russian S-300 air defense systems already deployed by Hezbollah and Iran.

The F-35’s developer, Lockheed Martin, says the technology built in provides greater survivability, situational awareness, and effectiveness for pilots. Integrated sensors and information and weapons systems give pilots an advantage, providing them with a total picture of the skies, enabling them to spot enemy aircraft first and take decisive, lethal action from a safe distance. The plane’s specialized radar system can track multiple targets, both aerial and on the ground at high resolution, and withstand an elevated level of electronic warfare aimed at jamming its systems. The communications system enables the plane to relay real time information to other aircraft and troops before the targets disappear.

Much of the F-35’s electronic warfare capabilities are run by a core processor that can perform more than 400 billion operations per second, including collecting identification of enemy radar and cyber-warfare emissions. An electro-optical targeting system provides the pilot with 360-degree vision, recommending which target to attack and whether to use weaponry or electronic means to counter or negate the threat.

Pilots will wear a special helmet-mounted display (HMD), a joint venture between Israel’s defense technology firm Elbit Systems and America’s Rockwell Collins, which provides critical flight information to the pilot throughout the mission. Airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information, and warnings are projected on the helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional dashboard display, so the pilot does not have to scan the plane’s devices in flight. Real-time imagery is streamed from six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, enabling the pilot to operate by day and by night, and in all weather conditions.

As futuristic as all this sounds, like most new military systems, the F-35 has its detractors, including President-elect Trump, whose Tweet decrying its high cost contributed to a two-day selloff in Lockheed Martin’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange. Some military experts cite performance failures during test flights, but the US Air Force has declared the jet to be combat ready, and many military experts contend that criticism of the F-35 will dissipate once the plane proves itself in combat. The F-15 and other exotic weapons systems were similarly criticized before performing in real time.

Israel is not the only country to place its bets on the F-35. Some ten other countries have placed orders for a total of 800 planes, including the UK, Japan, Canada, Norway and Turkey. The US Department of Defense is expected to upgrade its own arsenal with as many as 2,500 F-35s, despite Trump’s concerns about the price tag.

Israel is not buying the planes to bomb Gaza, or the Palestinian Authority, as neither territory possess air defenses. Initially, the Adir is meant to be a deterrent.

The IAF says that Israel’s purchase is a response to the arms race in the Middle East, which includes a broad range of fighter aircraft acquisitions by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. The F-35A gives Israel the bully pulpit, from which it can declare it has maintained its aerial supremacy in the Middle East.

“It will influence how we do things, in terms of threat management, and gives us the ability to create a total picture of the battle. It’s a step up in our abilities,” says Brigadier General Nir Barkan, head of the Israel Air Force’s air division, in an interview with Mishpacha. Barkan has been a frequent visitor to the Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona, which houses the largest number of F-35s and where the US conducts F-35 training courses.

In response to the plane’s critics, Barkan says he is impressed with the Adir’s flexibility and range of operations, and that it can be refueled in the air, which can help Israel reach faraway targets: “If we are talking about maintaining the IDF’s quality, it definitely meets that qualification. In addition, as the first country to receive operational planes of this model aside from the US, it is another example that the ties between Israel and the US are strategically significant.”

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