IAF looks to replace A-4 Skyhawks

After more than 40 years of faithful service, the IAF is on the hunt for a replacement for the 'Ayit.'

skyhawk 88 (photo credit: )
skyhawk 88
(photo credit: )
After being used for more than 40 years of faithful service, the Israel Air Force is on the hunt for a replacement for the A-4 Skyhawk. 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. In 1970, pilot Ezra Dotan became famous for shooting down two Syrian MIGs over Lebanon with a Skyhawk. Fifty-two Skyhawks were shot down by enemy air defense systems during the Yom Kippur War. After the 1982 Lebanon 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 they complete their initial flight training on the Fougas. In addition to being a trainer aircraft, the Skyhawk has also served in several missions in recent years, providing electronic-warfare support for F-16s and F-15s. "The plane is old and we are discovering problems," a top IAF officer said Wednesday. "Because of its age we are finding ourselves investing a lot of attention and resources and therefore we have started the process of searching for a new plane to replace the Skyhawk." The IAF is looking at four different alternatives for the Skyhawk to train its pilots. The first possibility is to phase out older F-16s - from the A and B class - and use them as trainers. This possibility is not preferred since it is a difficult transition for cadets from the Fouga to the F-16. As a result, the IAF is looking at several new aircraft, including the two-seater T-45, manufactured by Boeing and which is used by the US Navy as an aircraft carrier-capable trainer. Another candidate is an Italian-made jet, as well as the T-50 made by 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. In recent years, there have been several Skyhawks that have crashed during training flights. The last crash was in May 2007 when a Skyhawk crashed into the sea off the coast of Ashdod. The pilot ejected safely. In 2004, a Skyhawk crashed due to a similar engine malfunction in the Hebron area and in 1998 two jets crashed within two months, both due to technical problems. Most recently, in October, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan decided to ground all A-4 Skyhawks due to flaws discovered in the maintenance of the aircraft. Danny Grossman, a veteran pilot who flew fighter jets, including Skyhawks, for 26 years in the Israeli and US air forces, said the A-4 stayed in service since it was "too good to go into the night." "It was not only a trainer but was a platform for every mission as a simple to use and easy to operate pilot-friendly airplane which suited Israel's needs for decades," Grossman said. "It could carry a lot of ordinance and proved its mettle not only in providing air support for ground forces but also in a host of other missions."