Amid growing concern that delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be delayed, the Israel Air Force is moving forward with a new upgrade program for its older F-16 fighter jets.

The decision to begin the upgrades on the F-16 C/D models – called “Barak” in the IAF – began in 2010 with the installation of new avionics and a new mission-debriefing system.

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In an effort to increase the aircraft’s lifespan, the IAF has now decided to also upgrade the F- 16s flight-control system as well as its central display unit and the aircraft will be fitted with new high-resolution screens aimed at increasing pilots’ situational awareness.

Pilots of the Barak aircraft will also be equipped with Elbit’s display and sight helmet system, which enables pilots to aim their weapons simply by looking at their targets.

The upgrades come amid the possibility the delivery of the F- 35 will be delayed.

In 2010, the Defense Ministry signed a $2.75 billion contract for its first squadron of 20 F-35s, which are supposed to begin arriving in 2017 with pilots traveling to the US for training in mid-2016.

IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan recently held a number of discussions within the force regarding reports the Pentagon was considering slowing down the development of the F-35 after a number of cracks were discovered on some of the aircraft.

“I believe it’s wise to sort of temper production for a while here, until we get some of these heavy years of learning under our belt and get that managed right,” Pentagon F-35 program director V.-Adm. David Venlet said last week.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported last week a new Pentagon technical report recommended slowing acquisition of the plane due to a “lack of confidence” in the stability of the design.

The Defense Ministry has in the past claimed that Israeli procurement plans will not be affected by delays to the US program, but senior IDF officers said recently that additional delays could lead the IAF to consider purchasing new F-15s or F-16s to bridge the gap between now and when the aircraft arrives if it is pushed back later than 2017.

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