Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is in Israel today as the country takes delivery of its first two of 50 F-35 (I) next generation fighters. Israel is scheduled to have two fully operational F-35 squadrons with fifty F-35I aircraft by 2022.
The aircraft will be based at Israel’s desert base at Nevatim Airbase near Beersheba, according to U.S. defense reports.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most costly weapons system at an estimated cost of $400 billion. Israel isn’t the only country taking delivery of the fighter. Britain, South Korea, Italy, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Japan are also on the short list of allies that will receive the fighter in the near future.
Israel is set to deploy the F-35 right next to its fourth-generation fleet.
From “Day 1” of the Adir’s (meaning awesome/magnificent) arrival, a high-ranking Israeli general officer said the new fighters will be co-located with an F-16I “escorting squadron” allowing Israeli leadership to determine all it needs for seamless integration of its frontline fighter force.
“We need this quality team from Day 1 to live together, train together and learn all they need to speak the same language,” the officer said.
Although the F-16I squadron will be “escorting” its younger brother, Israel says the squadron’s mission will remain quite diverse.
“Of course, this F-16I squadron will have other missions. It’s not a dedicated team in the purest sense, since we don’t have the luxury of a stand-alone squadron. But their mission is clear: As smartly and as quickly as possible, we need to create a truly integrated force of fourth- and fifth-generation assets,” the officer said.
The deputy commander of the Nevatim Air Force base in southern Israel said the new fighters would give Israel an upper hand over its neighbors for years to come.
“We are going to be very strong for a long time, having these airplanes. And Israel has to be strong in this region for its existence,” said Col. Asaf, who could be identified only by his first name in line with Israeli military protocol. “It’s a message for everybody that Israel will keep on holding the high-end technology in this area.”
Secretary Carter signaled during his speech in Israel that delivery of the F-35 illustrates the United States’ continued to commitment to Israel.
“This is just a recent example of how our security cooperation continues to soar to new heights,” Carter said. “We’re maintaining robust military assistance and robust funding, critical missile defense systems like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow to name a few.”
The Pentagon echoed Carter’s remarks.
“The arrival of the aircraft highlights the close defense cooperation between the US and Israel,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The Pentagon’s F-35 program has been criticized by members of the U.S. Congress over testing problems, delays and cost overruns. While the aircraft were experiencing a weather hold in Italy on the way to Israel, America’s president elect weighed in on program costs.
Mr. Donald Trump lambasted the program when he tweeted this morning. “The F-35 program and cost is out of control.” Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” he wrote.
President-elect Trump’s next move is unclear as the two aircraft touch down in Israel, but what is clear is Israel’s optimism for the aircraft and its capabilities.
In November, a senior Israeli air force official described the arrival of the F-35 as a game-changer, citing its various cutting-edge systems, which would preserve Israel’s ability to act freely in hostile airspace. He cited its long-range capability, its provision of critical data in real time and a stealth system that can evade or delay detection by the world’s most sophisticated radar systems.
“This is groundbreaking because it improves the efficiency of our current forces and allows us to carry out more missions simultaneously,” a senior leader told the Jerusalem Post. “In today’s era of multiple fronts, it is a significant addition.”
According to senior Israeli officers, as well as senior US officials, the F-35 is the ultimate stealth fighter jet, able to evade enemy radar, including the Russian-made S-300 missile defense system deployed in Syria and Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, while flying at supersonic speeds. With close air-support capabilities and a massive array of sensors, pilots have an unparalleled access to information while in the air.
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