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 Israel.

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for cadets in the IAF pilot’s course after completing their initial flight training on Fougas, which have also recently been replaced by the Beechcraft T6 turboprop.

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.


The 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.

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