Israel must choose: F-35 or F-15

F-35 (Photo: PR)

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are battling for billions of dollars in orders from Israel.

The first two F-35 Adir Stealth warplanes delivered a month ago to the Israeli air force have already performed astonishingly in a few flights in Israeli skies. Their advanced systems are being studied by the pilots and technical crews ahead of the arrival of 38 more F-35s in the coming years. The air force, Ministry of Defense, and US arms companies are now preparing for the next deal, which is also projected to total several billion dollars.

The type of planes to be procured may be decided during the coming year, or during the following year at the latest. The selection will be either an improved version of the Boeing F-15 or a special model of the F-35, Lockheed Martin's flagship plane.

If Israel again selects the Stealth fighter, it will have a third squadron of this 5G aircraft. These planes will probably have capabilities lacking in the F-35s already ordered by Israel from Lockheed Martin: the ability to take off on a runway of only several hundred meters and to land vertically, provided that their fuel tanks do not have much fuel and the planes are not carrying munitions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes this model, which will enable the air force to operate even under one of Israel's nightmare scenarios, in which air force bases are bombarded by hundreds of rockets sowing destruction on the runways and seriously affecting the ability of warplanes to take off from them.

On the other hand, Boeing is already preparing to go after the billions of dollars that Israel will spend on its new airplane deal. They are offering the air force a new advanced model of the F-15, a twin-engine warplane that the Israeli air force has been using for 40 years.

The new F-15 model purports to make up for its lack of stealth capability with the ability to carry large quantities of various types of munitions, advanced radar, and many other improvements on the earlier models produced in recent decades. Boeing believes that this will make the new F-15 a terrifying flying war machine that will round off several corners for the Israeli air force. At least in their stealth configuration, the F-35s are limited in the weapons they can carry, because the bombs and missiles they carry are stored in internal munitions boxes in order to lower their radar signature. In the coming years, at least, the types of weapons that the new Stealth fighter can carry are also limited. Since the Boeing F-15 does not purport to be a stealth aircraft, Boeing has added additional points under the plane's wings for carrying more bombs and missiles.

A small and exclusive club

The F-35s that Israel has procured, which make the Israeli air force a member of a small and exclusive club of 5G plane operators, are terribly expensive: a single plane costs $110 million. If Israel decides to buy a third squadron of 25 more planes, it may choose the F-35 B model, which costs even more than the A model it has already procured.

Lockheed-Martin, however, has promised Israel a lower price for the F-35 if it decides to buy more of the planes. Lockheed believes that in this situation, the per-plane price will fall to $85 million. It is unclear whether or not this price refers to the B model.

Boeing's new F-15 is likely to be substantially more expensive, with an estimated price of $110-130 million per plane. The reasons for this include the future closing of the production line for the veteran plane, expected in several years, which will make the spare parts and accompanying systems for it more expensive, and the fact that it is a twin-engine aircraft.

All of these figures are known to the Israeli air force and the Ministry of Defense Procurement and Production Directorate, which will be responsible for the future procurement as soon as the type of aircraft to be procured is decided. In any case, funding for the deal will come from US defense aid, slated to total $38 billion over the coming decade.

"In the end, it's all a matter of the right mix," a senior air force officer told "Globes." "There are considerations of operational, organizational, and technical elements, and the question always arises of whether it's right to put all of your eggs in one basket. We have already gotten a foothold in the Adir universe. We bought two planes, and now we're looking ahead to the next deal. Right now, we're still hesitating and considering which aircraft will be more effective from the perspective of 15 years from now. I think that the answer is both of them. The F-35 is a great 5G aircraft, while the F-15 offered to us will be 4.5G, but can carry far more munitions, and we already have ready infrastructure suitable for it. As I said, no decision has been made yet in the matter."

In need of an urgent upgrade

Most of the air force's F-15s are out of date. Israel began using this plane, call the Falcon, in the second half of the 1970s. The air force also has a more modern and advanced squadron of F-15s, called Ra'am (Thunder).

Whether the coming deal is for F-35s or improved F-15s, the air force is talking about an urgent need for a general upgrade of its warplanes. "Our warplanes are getting old," a senior officer warns. "In the 1960s, for example, we bought 200 warplanes. In 2000-2010, we bought only 100 warplanes (F-16Is, called Soufa (Storm), Y.A.). In 2010-2020, we're buying just 19 F-35s, with the rest coming only in the succeeding decade. Our air force is using its warplanes longer than the US, and actually longer than any other air force in the world. This is creating situations in which we're the first to be exposed to problems like cracks in the body of the plane, while there is no actual knowledge or experience from other air forces about how to handle this."

Over the past decade, the air force has been systematically devoting more and more of its activity to its array of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The air force's plans speak of an expansion of the UAVs' capabilities, but not to the extent that they can replace manned aircraft. "The air force will need a new battle squadron every five years, and right now, it needs another two or three squadrons," says a senior officer. "There is a minimum number of warplanes that we simply don't want to fall short of."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on January 4, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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F-35 (Photo: PR)
F-35 (Photo: PR)
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