Israel’s F-16I Soufa (“Storm”) is a highly modified version of the F-16D Block 52+ fighter, with a Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine, an internally mounted FLIR (forward looking infrared system, and replacement of American equipment by Israeli avionics, defensive systems, et. al. Its extra fuel and weight leans it toward the strike fighter role rather than the F-16’s dogfighter origins, and in fact these aircraft were chosen over the more expensive F-15I Strike Eagle. The original buy of 50 aircraft in 1999 was eventually upgraded to 102 Soufas in December 2001, as the F-16I was chosen over the F-15I for a second time. First flight took place in December 2003, with production expected to continue through 2008.
On March 21/08, IAF commander, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy ordered the F-16I fleet grounded after several F-16 pilots complained of fumes that triggered trigger coughing, watery eyes, etc. The substance has been provisionally identified as formaldehyde, which is used in a number of aerospace sealants and adhesives. Despite investigations by an outside firm, however, the cause remains a mystery. Thus far, only 1 aircraft of 20 tested has been found to have this problem. Defense News report.
In the meantime, Israel’s Cheyl Ha’avir can rely on many of its existing 95 F-16A+/B+ Netz (“Falcon”) and 127 F-16C/D Barak (“Lightning”) aircraft, along with its 25 F-15I Strike Eagles, and some of its 50 or so F-15 A-D Eagles. In-service numbers are never 100%, of course, and in addition to the aging problems faced by the global F-15 A-D fleets, some of Israel’s F-16C/D and F-15 A-D aircraft are temporarily out of service while undergoing an upgrade program.