F-35s to Israel Early?
Israel’s relationship with the F-35 program has been rocky at times, but its re-admittance restored its Security Cooperative Participant status in the program, and the IAF still plans to buy about 100 F-35s to replace much of its F-16 fleet. Now the Jerusalem Post reports the Pentagon has agreed to supply the F-35A Lightning II variant to Israel as early as 2012, instead of in 2014 or 2015. This would make Israel one of the first nations to receive the aircraft, and very possibly the first foreign nation. Previous objections to Israel’s installation of its own technology in the F-35 (as it has done with every US fighter it has received) were also reportedly overcome; at present, the only Israel technology in the standard version will be the JSF HMDS helmet mounted display system, designed in cooperation with Elbit Systems. Israel also asked to manufacture F-35 aircraft locally at a 1 : 2 ratio, but the reports did not indicate whether that request was granted.
The timing and technology agreements reportedly came in the wake of a Washington meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and may represent an attempt to deflect Israeli calls for an export version of the F-22A Raptor, which has more stealth and capability, and whose production line is currently scheduled to close in 2010. The Jerusalem Post also quotes an Israeli defense official as saying that:
“This plane [the F-35] can fly into downtown Tehran without anyone even knowing about it since it can’t be detected on radar.”
One hopes this statement comes from someone who is not involved with the Israeli Air Force, because it’s delusional. Any aircraft can be detected on radar, as the shoot-down of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter over Kosovo demonstrated. The questions are at what frequencies, and at what range? The F-35’s rear quarter radar stealth and infrared detection profile compromise its stealth somewhat; the resulting aircraft is stealthier than 4+ generation competitors like the Eurofighter, but less stealthy than the F-22A. Jerusalem Post | Israel Insider | Reuters | January 2008 IDF release re: F-35 [Hebrew].