An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli airforce pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel December 29, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Israel will take delivery of two more stealth F-35 “Adir” fighter jets by the end of the month, joining the five already undergoing tests at IAF bases.
An additional two jets will arrive by October, and in December Israel is set to declare Initial Operational Capability of its F-35 stealth fighter jets, making it the first air force outside the United States to do so.
The single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters are expected to be used for long-range missions and will, according to senior Israeli officials, provide complete air superiority in the region for the next 40 years. The Lockheed Martin F-35 is the most expensive military weapons system in history.
The IAF, which is expected to receive a total of 50 planes over the next few years to make two full squadrons by 2022, is considering purchasing an additional 15 F-35s from the US.
With an extremely low radar signature, the F-35 can operate undetected deep inside enemy territory such as Iran and evade advanced missile defenses like the advanced Russian-made S-300 system that Tehran announced in March had become operational.
Russia delivered the S-300 system last year, in an $800 million deal that had been frozen in 2010 due to United Nations Security Council sanctions which barred the sales of advanced weapons to Tehran.
Israel had long sought to block the sale, as it remains concerned that Iran will develop nuclear weapons.
Jerusalem remains concerned that Iran will violate the July 2015 nuclear deal, and on Tuesday, Ali Akbar Salehi, one of the Islamic Republic’s vice presidents, said it could start creating highly enriched uranium within five days if the US canceled the nuclear deal.
“If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20% enrichment in at most five days,” he said.
Salehi’s comments echoed others made by President Hassan Rouhani, who warned earlier this month that “threats and sanctions” made by Washington would give Iran reason to build up its nuclear capabilities.
“In an hour and a day, Iran could return to a more advanced level than at the beginning of the negotiations,” he said, adding that “those who are trying to go back to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past hallucinations.
They deprive themselves of the advantages of peace.”
Former Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel has called the F-35 “game changing,” saying that Israel gathered new intelligence during a single flight by the F-35 earlier this year that other reconnaissance and intelligence gathering systems would take weeks to gather.
The air force has been working on integrating the F-35s already in Israel, carrying out dozens of test including a series of aerial refueling tests.
The tests, carried out from the Tel Nof Air Base near Rehovot, aimed to see how the “Re’em” (Boeing 707) tanker aircrafts refueled the F-35s at every speed and height.
Israel’s fleet of Re’em planes, the number of which remains confidential, are former civilian aircraft adapted for military uses such as aerial refueling for fighter jets. During a visit to the Nevatim Air Base near Beersheba last month, a senior IAF officer in the Re’em Squadron told the Post that the squadron allows the IAF to reach countries far from its borders.
“We like to see ourselves as the squadron which allows the IAF to go anywhere. Without air refueling, fighter jets can only go so far.”