IAF fighter jets during the Red Flag joint exercise at Nellis air force base in Nevada .
(photo credit: COURTESY IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
The Israeli defense establishment calls it a game changer, and views it as the plane that will provide the country with unparalleled aerial capabilities against its enemies.
On Wednesday, the IAF will move a step closer to deploying the F-35 Lightning II, one of the world’s most advanced stealth fighter jets, when the first of its fifth-generation warplanes is officially rolled out by manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Defense officials say the jets will transform Israel’s combat capabilities and significantly upgrade the air force’s ability to confront the threats posed to it, particularly by Hezbollah.
Wednesday’s ceremony, to be attended by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman alongside top IAF officers, will take place at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The unveiling comes just weeks before Israel marks the 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War.
The F-35’s stealth features include advanced sensors, guided weapons, and the ability to fuse data from various sources, allowing the pilot to focus on tactics, rather than on running the aircraft. The first two jets will arrive in Israel in December.
Israel will be the first country outside the United States to receive the platform, Keith O. Tucker, director of the Strategic Studies Group at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said. Its capabilities will be felt clearly during military operations such as a ground offensive, he added, stating that the fifth-generation jet takes combat to new heights.
Tucker also made reference to an intriguing and mostly classified capability on board the aircraft: its ability to carry out cyber attacks from the air. The plane will be able to launch cyber attacks and cyber defenses simultaneously during combat, he said.
The plane will enable the IAF to see its enemies before they can see it, and to strike them before they realize they are under attack.
These advantages are especially pertinent against the IDF’s principal military foe, Hezbollah, which according to international media reports has advanced radar-based surfaceto- air missile batteries, and a vast arsenal of 120,000 offensive rockets and missiles. Its stealth radar signature gives the F-35 the ability to attack these SAM batteries before they can be used, and to do so long-range.
The F-35’s networking capabilities also mean that it can work closely with other air platforms and ground forces, sharing battlefield data and intelligence in real time.
The plane’s ability to mark out the location of friendly and enemy forces to the pilots, through their helmet-mounted display system (manufactured by Israel’s Elbit Systems and Iowa-based Rockwell Collins) should provide breakthroughs for close air support of ground forces.
Speaking on Thursday at the Herzliya Conference, IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said the F-35 fits neatly into the IAF’s twin goals of significantly upgrading intelligence-gathering on enemies, and the ability to deliver mass, precision-guided strikes.
“When I talk about intelligence and targets – let’s take the northern arena – I’m talking about gathering information on thousands of targets per 24 hours, and prioritizing them,” Eshel said.
“I’m talking about a big network of planes, helicopters and drones... The direction we are moving toward is to increase the lethality in a significant way.”
The IAF, he said, will reach a stage where it has sensors “creating intelligence 24/7.”
The platforms will send data to “processing and analysis centers” that can translate them into usable intelligence “within seconds.”
“We in the IAF call it [the F-35] the fifth generation. The whole of the IAF is going to adapt itself to this vehicle, which will take us up to another level,” Eshel said.
The IAF has reached the upper limit in terms of relying on the ability of pilots and other human operators to make decisions on the battlefield.
“We are at the point where machines will help us think,” the air force chief said.