First Israeli F-35 Unveiled

Jane's Defence Weekly // June 23, 2016

Lockheed Martin unveiled the Israeli Air Force's (IAF's) first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on 22 June during an official ceremony at the company's Fort Worth production facility in Texas.

The first two Israeli F-35s are expected to touch down at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel in December and achieve initial operational capability status a year later, according to IAF officials.

The first two squadrons will eventually be based at Nevatim, with the third probably being set up at another location.

Israel has ordered a total of 33 F-35A aircraft and hopes to obtain government approval for the acquisition of an additional 17.

The first Israeli F-35 squadron has already been established, with both pilots and maintenance crews currently training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

IAF Chief of Staff Brigadier General Gen Kelman said on 21 June that the IAF aims to achieve a near independent maintenance capability so that its F-35s spend as little time outside Israel as possible. He said Israeli defence companies will receive maintenance contracts and US contractors will carry out basic maintenance at a facility built at Nevatim.

The IAF hopes to eventually acquire 75 F-35s, with some possibly being the F-35C short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, which would be better able to continue to fly combat sorties if runways were damaged by ballistic missiles and heavy rockets launched by the Lebanese group Hizbullah.

This acquisition plan is largely dependent on the results of the ongoing negotiations over the defence assistance package that the United States will provide to Israel over the coming decade.

Brig Gen Kelman revealed that Israel would install its own cyber defence systems on its F-35s, saying the Israeli enhancements would probably influence "the whole of the programme".

He added that the IAF expects to eventually oversee the replacement of other on-board systems, including the installation of Israeli weapons and possibly electronic warfare capabilities.

Senior Rafael executives indicated in April that they believe the company's Spice family of guided bombs stood a good chance of eventually being integrated with the Israeli F-35s, identifying the Spice 1000 stand-off weapon as the first candidate.

Brig Gen Kelman put the IAF's F-35 acquisition in the context of an unstable region where many states are currently spending heavily on advanced fourth-generation fighters and air defence systems. He noted that the instability could result in states that are currently not hostile to Israel changing their positions.

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