Israel to regain air dominance as touchdown of F-35 jets nears

It’s two weeks to the touchdown of the world’s most advanced fighter jet in Israel.

November 29, 2016 17:01
4 minute read.
Adir's First Flight in Fort Worth, Texas

Adir's First Flight in Fort Worth, Texas. (photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN AERONAUTICS/ LIZ LUTZ)

Due to touch down December 12 at the Nevatim Air Force Base near Beersheba, the F-35 is expected to give Israel total air dominance in the Middle East for at least the next 40 years.

Israeli Air Force officers said the fifth-generation stealth fighter jet equipped with the latest technology, known in Israel as the “Adir,” meaning “awesome” or “mighty,” will allow Israel to attack places it has not been capable of attacking in the past.

“The future is here,” IAF Chief of Staff Brig.-Gen. Tal Kalman said, adding that “the F-35 will allow the air force to do missions that its current aircraft are unable to do today. In quantity and quality, depth into enemy territory, in threat-filled areas, in the amount of missions, with less manpower in comparison with today,” he said.

“This is groundbreaking because it improves the efficiency of our current forces and allows us to carry out more missions simultaneously,” he said. “In today’s era of multiple fronts, it is a significant addition.”

According to senior Israeli officers, as well as senior US officials, the F-35 is the ultimate stealth fighter jet, able to evade enemy radar, including the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system deployed in Syria and Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, while flying at supersonic speeds. With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots have an unparalleled access to information while in the air.

The F-35 fighter jet plane, also known as the 'Adir,' on the Tarmac at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: ALEXANDER H. GROVES/Lockheed Martin

The Adir, defined by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman as “the most advanced in the world and the best for safeguarding Israel’s aerial superiority,” will be flown from the US to Israel by American pilots and the following day, two of the six Israeli pilots who trained in the US to fly the Adir will take command of the new jet, which according to the Adir squadron commander, “is a quantum leap in relation to the combat aircraft we have today.”

“We have bought the F-35 in order to protect the State of Israel and to open new fields in the country’s security.

I am certain that we’ll know how to use it in any place we need, and it doesn’t matter where it will be,” Lt.-Col. Yotam, the squadron commander of the Adir said, adding that “we all understand that we bought this plane in order to attack places that we are not always able to attack, and this plane knows how to do it perfectly. This is our aim in receiving this plane.”

The five Israeli combat pilots chosen for the future squadron were “handpicked” by the commander of the squadron and underwent special training at Luke Air Force Base outside Glendale, Arizona, where they trained alongside pilots from several countries, which will also acquire the jet.

“I returned two weeks ago from four months of training on the Adir plane in the United States,” said Yotam.

“Together with a team of more pilots and officers for the simulator, we went through very advanced and very comprehensive training to learn how to fly the Adir.”

Israel is the first country to receive the F-35 outside the US and once the jets land in Israel, they will not leave the country, excluding combat missions.

According to senior IAF officers, all maintenance of the jet will be done in Israel. Other countries that purchased the aircraft will have their F-35s undergo maintenance at regional centers, often outside their own borders.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet plane in a test flight. Credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN AERONAUTICS/ LIZ LUTZ

The jet, called a “superpower of information” by the squadron commander, was designed to Israel’s own specifications and will be embedded with Israeli-made electronic warfare pods as well as Israeli weaponry, all set to be installed once the planes land here.

Built in the US by Lockheed Martin, the Israeli F-35s have components built by Israeli companies – including Israel Aerospace Industries, which produced the outer wings, Elbit Systems- Cyclone, which built the center fuselage composite components, and Elbit Systems Ltd, which manufactured the pilots’ helmets.

The helmet, a joint venture between Elbit and the Iowan company Rockwell Collins, provides “critical flight information to the pilot throughout the entire mission,” according to Elbit, which added that the helmet “delivers video imagery in day or night conditions, combined with precision symbology, to give the pilot unprecedented situational awareness and tactical capability.”

The cockpit, including all tactical and operational systems, is virtual, and a voice-recognition system allows the pilot to focus on tasks on hand, such as identifying targets.

Despite the excitement of the jet, the F-35 is a controversial plane with a long series of failures, delays and an expensive price tag of close to $100 million per plane. In September, the US Air Force announced it was grounding the jet a mere two months after they were declared combat-ready due to flaws in the plane’s coolant system.

Eight of the planes grounded by the USAF belong to Israel.

Nonetheless, Israel is still said to be considering acquiring the F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing jets. According to Lockheed Martin, the B variant “is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front line combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases.” This could be crucial at times of war when air force bases – and particularly runways – will likely be hit by enemy missiles and rockets.

On Sunday, the security cabinet decided unanimously to purchase an additional 17 F-35s, bringing the number of the advanced jets in the IAF to 50.

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