The Israel Air Force plans to purchase a second squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters during the upcoming IDF multi-year procurement plan that is currently under review within the General Staff.
Last October, Israel purchased its first squadron of 20 F-35s in a $2.75 billion deal. The aircraft are manufactured by Lockheed Martin and are expected to begin arriving in Israel in late 2016- early 2017.
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The fifth-generation stealth F-35 is purported to be one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world with the ability to fly undetected in enemy territory. Its uniqueness stems not only from its stealth capabilities but also due to its integrated sensor suite which provides pilots with unprecedented situational awareness and enables the sharing of information between the various aircraft.
The second contract would likely be of a similar number of aircraft and could mean – depending on when the second deal is signed – that the IAF could have 40 operational aircraft by the end of the decade.
The requirement for new aircraft is underscored by developments in the region and particularly the military buildup in the region. Last week, for example, Iraq announced plans to purchase 36 F-16 fighter jets from the United States, a decision that raised eyebrows in Israel.
The IAF plans to start sending pilots to the US in 2016 to begin training on the F-35 together with American pilots who will by then have received the aircraft. This way, when the planes are delivered to Israel later that year or in the beginning of 2017, the IAF will be able to use them fairly quickly in operations.
The IAF recently dispatched two officers to the US where they are working together with the Pentagon on configuring the F-35 for Israel. The officers will work together with the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin on issues involving the integration of Israeli technology into the fighter jet.
IAF officers said on Sunday that they did not anticipate that the delivery date for the F-35 would slip beyond 2017. If it did, the IAF will need to consider purchasing a gap filler for the period. In the past, the IAF had considered purchasing additional F-15s to fill the gap that would be created in the event that the JSF program is further delayed.
In related news, the IDF General Staff recently approved a new
operational doctrine for how to jointly operate its growing number of
missile defense systems in a future conflict when Israeli airspace will
be crowded with aircraft, enemy missiles and interceptors.
Under the new doctrine, the IAF has regulated specific flight areas and
altitudes for aircraft and has developed new command-and-control systems
which fuse data obtained from ground and airborne sensors to provide
missile defense operators with an accurate picture of Israel’s skies.
Israel currently operates the Iron Dome counter-rocket system designed
to intercept short-range rockets and the Arrow-2 missile defense system
designed to protect Israel from long-range ballistic missiles. Under
development are the David’s Sling for medium-range missiles and the
Arrow-3 which will serve as Israel’s upper tier defense system.
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