Israel Air Force readies for F-35s

F-35 Photo: Lockheed Martin
F-35 Photo: Lockheed Martin

In five days Lt. Col Yotam will fly to Texas with five other pilots to study the most expensive weapons system in IDF history.

Lieutenant Col. Yotam has been an Israeli air force combat pilot for 19 years. During this time, his Netz (Hawk) squadron of outmoded F-16A planes has been closed down, and he has overseen the start of a new squadron, which has been given the name Nesher Hazahav (Golden Eagle). Nesher Hazahav will use the world's best warplane the F-35A (Hebrew name: Adir (Mighty)). "In my last job, I commanded the Netz squadron, and now I'm starting the first squadron of Adirs. There's no doubt that these are two radically different command challenges," he told "Globes" today.

The officer did not attend yesterday's rollout ceremony for the first stealth aircraft to be delivered to the Israel air force in December 2016 at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas. He will, however, soon see a good deal of the stealth plane from close up. In a few days, he will fly to Texas with five other air force pilots to study the most expensive weapons system in IDF history, down to the last screw.

He and his pilots will "fly" a flight simulator built for its plane by Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer. "I've already flown this simulator before, and it is a perfect reproduction of the cockpit in the real plane. Up until now, no Israeli pilot has flown the stealth plane, and Israeli pilots will fly it only after it lands at the Nevatim airbase six months from now," the squadron commander says. "We selected superb pilots for the Adir, but no less important, they are people with very diverse and established values. They are fairly veteran pilots, who already have experience in flying the air force's warplanes. They are spread over a rather wide age bracket, with an eye to the squadron's evolution."

The infrastructure for receiving the new planes at the Nevatim airbase in the Negev has already been prepared: "The air force prepared itself ahead of time in the best and most comprehensive way for the Adir's arrival, and all the infrastructure is ready. It isn't every day that the air force gets a new generation warplane, like in this case a fifth generation plane. We're trying to adapt the air force to this plane, and not the other way around. We'll apply the new standard brought by the Adir to all the air force's systems. It will be a process that will lead us forward," says Lieut. Col. Yotam.

After the first two stealth planes land in Israel, the process of receiving them will proceed gradually, so that the air force will have its first full squadron of stealth planes in 2019. Israel has ordered 33 F-35As so far at $110-120 million per plane.

In the framework of the IDF multi-year procurement framework, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot has recommended the procurement of 17 more F-35As, while the air force wants a total of at least 75. The decision on this matter will be taken only after a new agreement is reached on the amount of US defense aid money in the coming decade.

The air force's feverish preparations for receiving the new stealth plane are taking place simultaneously with widespread criticism of its high price - and the many malfunctions that have accompanies the project, and which are likely to complicate the operation of the new planes. "We're not used to buying a plane in the development stage," Yotam said today. "Every weapons system we previously bought was on the shelf and operational. In this case, the plane is just starting, and it's extremely natural for it to have birth pangs. With such an advanced system, had so much technology reached us already in fine working order, I would have been worried. We welcome every report and comment in this case and we'll know how to deal with everything when we have to. There are natural processes in such situations, and I'm calm."

Yesterday, in the presence of Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman, Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, senior air force offices, senior officeholders in Lockheed Martin, and senior US Department of Defense officials, the first stealth plane was delivered to Israel. "As a pilot with over 30 years of experience, with a wide variety of aircraft, I had the right to fly in the Adir simulator, and my feeling of excitement was as if I had held the future in my hands," Israel air force Chief of Staff Brigadier General Tal Kelman said in his speech at the rollout ceremony. "The unique combination of breakthrough technology, deadliness, and man-machine interfaces will lead the world into the fifth generation.

Liberman said that it was his first trip to the US in his position as Minister of Defense, adding, "This is the world's most advanced aircraft, and Israel is proud to be the first in our region to receive and operate it." At the end of the ceremony, Liberman also entered the cockpit of the advanced warplane, and was impressed by its advanced systems.

Ex-President Shimon Peres today commented on the delivery to Israel of the new plane, and referred to Israel's relations with the US. "Anyone who doubts Obama's friendship should take into account his extraordinary deeds on behalf of Israel's security, and see whether the US has given such a plane to another country. It won't hurt to say thank you once in a while," Peres said, adding, "There are some among us who criticize the US, and who know better than the US what Obama should do. They are trying to hurt, and arouse doubts about relations between the two countries."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on June 23, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

F-35 Photo: Lockheed Martin
F-35 Photo: Lockheed Martin
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