Is­rael to re­ceive its first F-35 ‘su­per-tech’ stealth fight­ers

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JERUSALEM: Is­rael will to­mor­row re­ceive its first F35 stealth fighter jets, hailed as tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vels whose hel­mets alone cost more than most peo­ple’s homes but crit­i­cized for their price and ini­tial flaws. Built by US aero­space gi­ant Lock­heed Martin, the first two planes’ ar­rival in Is­rael is be­ing wel­comed as a ma­jor event for the coun­try’s mil­i­tary as it seeks to main­tain dom­i­nance in the tur­bu­lent Mid­dle East.

US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter is to at­tend the ar­rival along with his Is­raeli coun­ter­part Avig­dor Lieber­man at the Ne­va­tim air base in the coun­try’s south. The de­liv­ery of the first two of 50 F35s to be pur­chased by Is­rael comes as the years­long de­vel­op­ment of the most ex­pen­sive plane in his­tory reaches a crit­i­cal stage. While a list of coun­tries have or­dered the planes, Is­rael, which re­ceives more than $3 bil­lion a year in US de­fense aid, will be the first with an op­er­a­tional F-35 squadron out­side the United States.

“I think we don’t fully un­der­stand the big ad­van­tage of the F-35,” an Is­raeli air force of­fi­cial said. “I think it’s go­ing to be learned in the next few months, maybe years. I think it’s a very su­per-tech air­plane.” Is­rael has given it the name “Adir”-which means “mighty” in He­brew. Its first planes are ex­pected to be op­er­a­tional within a year af­ter de­liv­ery. It will be re­ceiv­ing the F-35A model for stan­dard take­off and land­ings. The B and C mod­els are for short take­offs and air­craft car­ri­ers.

Among their main fea­tures are ad­vanced stealth ca­pa­bil­i­ties to help pi­lots evade so­phis­ti­cated mis­sile sys­tems. The sin­gle-pi­lot jets can carry an ar­ray of weapons and travel at a su­per­sonic speed of Mach 1.6, or around 1,200 miles per hour. It is un­clear if Is­rael’s planes will be able to de­liver nu­clear bombs. Is­rael is be­lieved to be the Mid­dle East’s sole nu­clear-armed power, though it has never ac­knowl­edged it.

High-tech hel­met

The ul­tra-high-tech hel­met, at a cost of some $400,000 each, sounds like some­thing out of a sci­ence-fic­tion film. It in­cludes its own op­er­at­ing sys­tem, with data that ap­pears on the hel­met vi­sor and is also shared else­where. Ther­mal and night vi­sion as well as 360-de­gree views are pos­si­ble with cam­eras mounted on the plane.

Is­raeli firm El­bit Sys­tems has been in­volved in the hel­met’s pro­duc­tion. In Is­rael, the planes, de­signed for mul­ti­ple com­bat sit­u­a­tions, will ini­tially re­place a group of age­ing F-16s. They are seen as help­ing the coun­try main­tain its edge in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly as its main en­emy Iran seeks fur­ther in­flu­ence in the re­gion. “The F-35 has been de­signed to deal with the most ad­vanced threat sys­tems now be­ing fielded in the Mid­dle East,” Lock­heed Martin’s Steve Over told AFP by email.

Is­rael is es­pe­cially con­cerned over whether Iran will seek to de­velop nu­clear weapons by vi­o­lat­ing the international ac­cord it has signed with world pow­ers aimed at pre­vent­ing it. The coun­try is also keep­ing an eye on Le­banon’s pow­er­ful Shi­ite mil­i­tant group Hezbol­lah, with which Is­rael fought a dev­as­tat­ing war in 2006. Be­yond that, in neigh­bor­ing Syria, Rus­sia has de­ployed the so­phis­ti­cated S-300 and S-400 anti-air­craft sys­tems as it con­ducts an air cam­paign in sup­port of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad.

‘Only game in town’

Is­rael is buy­ing its first 33 jets at an av­er­age price of about $110 mil­lion. The gov­ern­ment last month ap­proved the pur­chase of the re­main­ing 17. As a com­par­i­son, in 2001, Is­rael agreed to buy 52 ad­di­tional F-16s from Lock­heed Martin at a to­tal cost of $1.3 bil­lion. While the tech­nol­ogy can seem dazzling, there have been questions over whether the plane will be worth the cost.

A list of flaws have been un­cov­ered, in­clud­ing one where pi­lots who weighed less than 136 pounds risked be­ing killed by its eject sys­tem. There have also been soft­ware bugs and tech­ni­cal glitches, though Lock­heed Martin as­sures such is­sues have been over­come. Some in Is­rael have also said the price of the planes will limit the num­ber that can ul­ti­mately be pur­chased, while los­ing any in com­bat will be par­tic­u­larly costly. There have also been questions over whether up­grades to the air force’s ex­ist­ing fleet could have suf­ficed. But the F-35 was “the only game in town” since Is­rael re­lies so heav­ily on US de­fense aid, said Yif­tah Shapir of Is­rael’s In­sti­tute for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies.

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