Financial concerns and dwindling budgets are requiring the Israeli Air Force to
come up with innovative funding mechanisms as it seeks to continue upgrading its
fleet of aging aircraft.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave his provisional
approval last week to purchase 20 F-35 stealth Joint Strike Fighters and the IAF
is now in the final stages of submitting an official Request for Information
(RFI) for a South Korean and Italian trainer aircraft which it hopes to use to
replace its legendary fleet of A-4 Skyhawks.
Known in Israel as the Ayit
(Hawk), the Skyhawk first arrived in Israel in 1967 after the Six Day War and
was the first fighter jet that the United States agreed to sell
It served prominently in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and in the
First Lebanon War in 1982.
After that war, the IAF decided to phase out
the jet from operational service and began using it as an advanced trainer for
cadets in the IAF pilot’s course after completing their initial flight training
on Fougas, which have also recently been replaced by the Beechcraft T6
The IAF is looking seriously at two candidates to replace the
Skyhawk. The first is Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi M-346 transonic trainer aircraft,
in use in Italy and Singapore.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
has lobbied Israel heavily on behalf of the plane’s manufacturer and the jet is
seen as a leading candidate within diplomatic corridors due to the close ties
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has with his Italian counterpart.
main contender is the T-50 Golden Eagle made in South Korea in conjunction with
Lockheed Martin. The single-engine jet can carry up to two pilots and, with a
high-mounted canopy and tandem seating, allows pilots superior visibility. It is
considered one of the best trainers in the world. Last year, IAF pilots flew to
South Korea to examine the jet.
Closure of the deal has, however, been
delayed by budgetary constraints – particularly in light of the pending JSF
deal, which is expected to cost the IAF around $2.75 billion for 20 planes that
will begin arriving in Israel in 2015.
Therefore, instead of paying for
the aircraft, the Defense Ministry has decided to go with a proposal from Elbit
Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) which will purchase the trainers
and subsequently lease flight hours to the IAF.