Following the downing of an Israel air force F-16 in last week's attack on targets in Syria, Israeli professional personnel are privately discussing why the IDF did not use its latest warplane, the F-35 stealth fighter, in the attack. Using the F-35, which is capable of evading enemy radar, seems like a feasible option, given that the operational circumstances deprived Israel of the element of surprise in the operation in Syria. The website of "Defense News," a US defense weekly, analyzed this question.
The IDF declared the F-35 operational in early December. Residents living near the Nevatim air force base, the home base of the Gold Eagle squadron of F-35s, report that the planes are accumulating substantial air time, according to "Defense News."
The eight warplanes sent to destroy the mobile Iranian control center in central Syria in retaliation for the Iranian UAV sent into Israeli territory on February 10 nevertheless did not include a single F-35. The follow-up air force operation against 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in retaliation for the downing of the F-16I also included no F-35s.
Why? Are these planes too expensive to use regularly? Will the air force use them in the next round, following statements by Syria and Hezbollah that "additional surprises" await Israel if it attacks again? "Defense News" Tel Aviv office head Barbara Opall-Rome asked these questions of IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, whose answer was, "No comment."
In informal talks, however, former air force officers offered a number of possible explanations for the decision not to use the F-35s in the attacks in Syria. One speculation is that the air force has not managed to integrate Israeli weapons systems in the new planes. A possible need to reserve the F-35s for extremely strategically important missions and targets with more sophisticated air defense systems that those used in Syria was also mentioned.
"Defense News" says, however, that all of these officers agreed that the air force erred in its calculations. The journal believes that decision makers did not expect the risk created by the dense counter-fire of the antiaircraft systems deployed in the area for the purpose of aiding the Syrian government, even if these systems were outmoded SA-5 and SA-17 systems. This miscalculation not only culminated in the first Israeli plane shot down downed by enemy fire in 36 years, but also damage to Israel's carefully fostered aura of invincibility.
In view of this analysis, certain sources in Israel wondered why the air force had not used the F-35. "They were sure the F-16I could easily survive the environment, as it has done so many times before,” a retired Air Force major general told "Defense News."
Another reserve officer theorized that the types of weapons used against the targets, which included the Syrian air force's T-4 base, had not yet been installed in the F-35s' weapons bays. "If it was determined to use our own special weapons for this particular scenario and this specific formation, what good would it do to hang it under the wings? You’d lose the stealth,” the officer said.
An IDF spokesperson did not specify which missiles were used in the attack against the Iranian control center, but many sources told "Defense News" that SPICE missiles, a precise weapon used many times in the past, were used.
Another former officer told "Defense News" that Washington may have signaled its opposition to the use of the F-35s to Israel out of concern that Iranian and Syrian military experts stationed in Syria would be able to gain information about the planes' stealth capabilities and other characteristics. An IDF spokesperson denied this.
All of the officers who spoke to "Defense News" asked not to be quoted on the record because of the current IDF investigation into the downing of the plane. The only exception was Israeli air force Brigadier General Abraham Assael, a former pilot and currently CEO of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, who said that the air force had no reason to risk “strategic assets” against what was termed a “strategically insignificant” target.
"In the past, everything went very well, so why jeopardize something so valuable and precious in an operation that used to entail no significant obstacles?” Assael said.
"Glitches and mishaps happen,” he added. “So now they’re investigating, and it could be one of the lessons will be that in this new strategic environment, we’ll see the F-35 called into action.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 15, 2018
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