F-35 fighter jet.
(photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)
FORT WORTH, TEXAS - Israel will install its own cyber defenses on the F-35 jets it will receive this year, the air force's Chief of Staff, Brig.-Gen. Tal Kelman, said on Tuesday.
Kelman praised the jet across the board, saying it would significantly upgrade Israel's ability to defend itself, but added that he had been greatly disturbed by the issue of cyber defense for the stealth aircraft.
After negotiations with the US and the plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, an agreement was reached enabling the Israel Air Force (IAF) to create Israeli cyber defense solutions.
Kelman said the IAF is also striving to achieve an independent ability to maintain the aircraft within the country's borders, due to daily fighter jet operational flights, and the need to ensure rapid deployment in the event of a sudden armed conflict.
"We are integrating Israeli defense companies to carry out some of the maintenance," he said. The US will still be responsible for basic maintenance functions, which it will carry out of an installation at the IAF's Nevatim airbase in southern Israel.
Fifty percent of pilot training will be carried out on the F-35 simulator, Kelman said, representing an approximate five-fold increase in the percentage of simulator training that occurs in older, fourth-generation jets like the F-16.
Two F-35 squadrons will be based at Nevatim, and if a third is acquired by Israel would likely be deployed in another base, Kelman said. The IAF is seeking to expand the number of jets it will receive from 33 to 50, with a view of eventually having 75 aircraft at its disposal.
After the first two F-35 jets arrive in 2016, Israel will receive six to seven per year, until the first batch of 33 jets is delivered. One of those planes will be experimental, enabling Israel to later fit the squadrons with Israeli-made munitions and other on board systems.
An initial squadron has already been set up, and its pilots have been described by Kelman as an air force "dream team." "They are the best we have," he said.
After the squadrons become operational, its pilots will have completed air force training school, and will have flown on older F-16s and F-15s, before taking control of the F-35s.