IAF wary of accepting additional F-16Is

Air force sets up special hotline for pilots and their family members following carcinogen incident.

f16 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
f16 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The Israel Air Force is considering delaying delivery of the remaining F-16I fighter jets Lockheed Martin is supposed to supply, until an investigation into the discovery of carcinogenic material in one of the planes is completed. In 2000, Israel signed a deal to purchase 102 aircraft from the American defense conglomerate and began receiving the planes in 2003 at a rate of approximately two a month. Without delays, the IAF would have finished receiving the last batch of 19 planes by the end of the year. Meanwhile Wednesday, the IAF established a special hotline for pilots and their family members to call if they had questions about the health risks and the possibility that they might have been exposed to high levels of cancerous material. The decision to set up the hotline was made by the IDF brass due to a growing number of complaints and questions by wives of pilots who may have been affected by the carcinogenic material. Last Friday, IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy decided to ground all F-16I training flights (the plane will continue to be used in necessary operations) after a number of pilots complained of a bad smell coming from the cockpit of one of the planes. A subsequent test by a civilian company revealed a high concentration of formaldehyde inside one of the F-16Is, Israel's most advanced fighter jets. Since the announcement of the decision to ground the aircraft, the IAF has been approached by a number of Western militaries that also own F-16s, for additional information on the type of material discovered in the plane. Israel and the US have created a team of technical experts from both air forces as well as Lockheed Martin - called the Tiger Team - to investigate the incident and try to determine the sources of the carcinogenic material. Military sources would not say Wednesday how much longer the tests would take, but Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i told the Knesset that none of the planes would be allowed to take off before undergoing tests and being cleared of any suspicion of containing a high concentration of formaldehyde. "The IDF views this affair seriously and is taking all the necessary steps," Vilna'i said in response to a request by Labor MK Eitan Cabel that the issue be brought to the attention of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "I am glad that the defense establishment and the IAF are making the right decisions and are dealing with this seriously," Cabel said. "Had they let this go on, it could have turned into a disaster." While the IDF and Lockheed Martin claimed Wednesday that there was no tension between them over the issue and that they were working in full cooperation, one difference that has yet to be resolved is the issue of who will finance the repairs to the planes if a serious malfunction is discovered. "If the technical teams discover that the problem is serious and has to do with the plane's main systems, we could be talking about tens of millions of dollars in repairs," an official said, adding that the IAF was hoping to receive guarantees from Lockheed Martin that the company would foot the bill.