Adir Who? Israel’s F-35i Stealth Fighters
November 3/16: Israeli Air Force officials plan to have its fleet of F-35I “Adir” fighters operational as soon as possible , with service technicians due to visit the US in order to participate in a series of test flights manufacturer Lockheed Martin plans to perform at its Fort Worth, Texas facilities. The test flights aim to familiarise the crew with maintaining the fighter and preparing it for a combat mission and also includes a visit to the USAF’s base in Utah to observer operational procedures for the F-35. With the first two Israeli F-35s slated to arrive next month, immediate work is expected to begin on installing Israeli-developed systems.
In an exclusive June 2006 interview, Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief procurement officer Brigadier-General Ze’ev Snir told Israeli media that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was a key part of their IAF recapitalization plans, and that Israel intended to buy over 100 of the fighters to replace their fleet of over 300 F-16s.
Since then, however, the expected cost of that purchase has more than doubled. Israel’s F-35 contract had to deal with that sticker shock, with issues like the incorporation of Israeli technologies and industrial work, and with major schedule slips in the core F-35 program. Israel was even contemplating delaying its purchase, which would have removed an important early adopter for the Lightning II. In the end, however, Israel decided to forego other fighter options, and became the first foreign buyer of operational F-35s. So, how is the “F-35i Adir” shaping up?
F-35 for Israel: Key Issues
The IAF currently flies 27 F-15I “Raam” Strike Eagles and 102 F-16I “Soufa” fighters as its high-end strike force. Another 72 F-15 A-D Eagle and 224 F-16 A-D Falcon models form the backbone of its force, making Israel the world’s 2nd largest F-16 operator behind the United States.
The plan was that Israel would phase out its F-16A “Netz” models in particular. A smaller number of new F-35s would first replace the Netz fighters, and then replace more advanced F-16 A-D models. That plan is underway, but it has run into turbulence at every step. The F-35i “Adir” will need to address those issues as it competes with other options for future IAF dollars.
Israel’s original estimates made their F-16 replacement plan seem feasible. They pegged a 100-plane F-35A deal at around $5 billion, and Gen. Snir added that:
“The IAF would be happy to equip itself with 24 F-22s but the problem at this time is the US refusal to sell the plane, and its $200 million price tag.”
Unfortunately, Israel’s September 2008 request for its first 75 F-35s revealed an estimated $15 billion price tag – or about $200 million per plane. All in return for a fighter with poorer air-to-air performance than the F-22, and less stealth. Defense News quoted an official in the IDF General Staff as saying that:
“It’s unbelievable, first it was $40 million to $50 million, and then they [the IAF] told us $70 million to $80 million. Now, we’re looking at nearly three times that amount, and who’s to say it won’t continue to climb?”
Unless its price drops sharply, the F-35 can expect to experience continued competing against other options for each successive IAF offer. A pending gusher of oil and gas revenues from offshore fields may make the Israelis less price sensitive, but Israel’s jets aren’t just for show. If the F-35s are seen as too expensive to support the fleet size Israel needs, the IAF will look at more affordable options to supplement their F-35is.
Israel originally wanted a different fighter, and pressed the USA for F-22EX aircraft, in order to maintain the IAF’s traditional requirement of regional air superiority. The F-33 offers far fewer weapon choices than the F-35, but it would have been available immediately, while offering better air-to-air performance and higher stealth capabilities against the most advanced air defense systems and fighter radars. Ultimately, America’s shut-down of its F-22 program removed that option.
For Israel, F-35 capability is linked to progress in its testing and integration schedule, which has slipped very badly over the last 5 years. The F-35A Block 3, which will be fielded in 2018, will arrive with a weapon set that hardly distinguishes it from an F-22, and is far inferior to the array its existing fighters already carry.
Longer term, F-35 capability is also linked to another variable: Israel’s ability to customize it, as the IAF has done to its F-15 and F-16 fleets.
Access to the F-35’s software source code remains a live issue for the Israelis, as it has been with the Australians [PDF], British, and others. That access is necessary when air forces want to upgrade the aircraft’s computers, and/or integrate new weapons, communications, or electronic warfare systems. Israeli planes generally undergo heavy modifications to incorporate Israeli electronics and weapons systems, and the USA has allowed the Israelis access to the F-15 and F-16’s software. Israel has since exported a number of those enhancements for F-16 and F-15 customers in Asia and Latin America.
The USA doesn’t seem willing to bend on the software code issue for anyone, and insists on routing upgrade and change requests through Lockheed Martin, with attendant costs and possible delays.
Israel has gone ahead with an initial buy anyway, while negotiating to add key items. Israeli “F-35i Adir” fighters will include compatible communications systems and datalinks, and provisions to insert some locally-built ECM and defensive electronics.
Israel will also want to broaden the plane’s weapons array to include Israeli weapons, as a subject of future agreements. Items mentioned in reports to date include Python short-range air-to-air missiles, and dual-mode guidance Spice GPS/IIR smart bombs. Those items are still being negotiated, and Israel’s top-of-the-line strike fighter will need even more weapons than these in order to be fulfill its role.
Israel didn’t get everything it wanted in its initial buy, and ended up paying considerably more than it had expected. On the other hand, it did get the USA to move on the subject of ECM defensive systems as of 2010, and may succeed in getting more changes made.
On the seller’s side of the table, Israel’s buy is a respected vote of confidence that the F-35 needs. Lockheed Martin is trying to ramp up orders for the F-35 quickly, even though the aircraft are now expected to remain in testing until 2018. A large order book would allow the firm to offer early buyers much lower prices for each plane, using dollar averaging over a substantial initial batch, instead of charging $130 – $170 million for early production aircraft, and $100 million or so for the same plane 3 years later.
That wide difference in purchase costs is standard for military aircraft of all types, but the F-35 is about 5-7 years late versus its ideal market window. Worse, American budgets are already slowing orders, with over 150 planned fighters removed from the latest 5-year plan. Potential customers with air fleets that are reaching their expiry dates are reluctant to pay those high early production costs. If enough of them defect, the F-35 program as a whole could find itself in trouble. By adding an Israeli endorsement, and adding orders during a critical period for the program, Israel’s 20-plane order assumes an importance out of proportion to its size.
The final leverage point for Israel is its solid commitment to its fighter force, and known need for future upgrades. Over time, 326 F-16s have to be replaced with some something, and an early order puts the F-35 in a strong competitive position for further orders. If volume purchases from other countries can help drive costs down closer to $80 million, and new approaches can beat current estimates of high F-35 operating and maintenance costs, the F-35 could become very hard to compete against.
Beyond the F-16s, The IAF’s F-15 Eagles will also require replacement in the coming years, which will be a competition all its own. If the F-35 falters, sharply closer defense relations with Italy could turn the Eurofighter into an option, and Boeing is spending private funds to develop a stealth-enhanced F-15SE “Silent Eagle.” The F-15SE would offer longer range, twin engines for reliability, a much wider set of integrated weapons, and IAF fleet commonalities, in exchange for less stealth than the F-35. If costs are even close to equivalent, the F-35 will have a serious competitor.
Contracts and Key Events
November 3/16: Israeli Air Force officials plan to have its fleet of F-35I “Adir” fighters operational as soon as possible, with service technicians due to visit the US in order to participate in a series of test flights manufacturer Lockheed Martin plans to perform at its Fort Worth, Texas facilities. The test flights aim to familiarise the crew with maintaining the fighter and preparing it for a combat mission and also includes a visit to the USAF’s base in Utah to observer operational procedures for the F-35. With the first two Israeli F-35s slated to arrive next month, immediate work is expected to begin on installing Israeli-developed systems.
July 29/16: The Israeli Air Force has announced that its first F-35I “Adir” fighter has flown in the USA and the flight of a second jet is expected shortly. A pilot from lead manufacturer Lockheed Martin will conduct a number of further tests prior to the fighters’ delivery to Israel on December 12. As with its existing fleets of F-15 and F-16s, Israeli F-35As will be heavily customized to suit the IAF’s needs.
May 5/16: Testing of newer versions of Israeli-made weapons systems is currently underway, and will be eventually installed on Israel’s coming F-35I Adir fleets. While specifics regarding the systems being tested have not been released, the list includes versions of Rafael’s Spice precision-guided bombs and infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles. Testing has been conducted using Boeing F-15s and Lockheed F-16s.
May 4/16: The first F-35I for the Israeli Air Force will be rolled out by Lockheed Martin on June 22 at the manufacturer’s Forth Worth plant. The ceremony will be met by an Israeli delegation led by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Israel’s order of F-35s will then be fitted with the indigenously developed C4 software system designed to meet the Israel Defense Force’s requirement that all Israeli aircraft have unique electronic systems in order to keep a technological edge.
April 6/16: Israel is seeking to gain greater autonomy in its participation and design of its F-35I Joint Strike Fighter procurement. This will include its own command, control, communications and computing (C4) system, indigenous weaponry and the ability to perform heavy maintenance in country rather than at predetermined regional overhaul facilities. Delivery of the first F-35Is are expected to commence this December, and it is expected that Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will begin installing a tailor-made C4 system on top of the central avionics embedded in the joint strike fighter. At present, Lockheed Martin is working with Elbit subsidary, Cyclone Ltd., for external fuel tanks to mount on the F-35A.
January 21/16: Despite their commitment to the F-35 acquisition program, Israel plans to conduct a deep upgrade of their Boeing F-15I Ra’am fleet, with plans to keep it as the backbone of their strike capabilities. The modifications, including structural changes, the addition of an active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar, updated avionics and new, unspecified weapon systems, will allow for the aircraft’s continued use as a strategic aircraft even after the F-35I comes into operation. While it’s been said that some missions will be switched over to the F-35I, the F-15 will continue to be used as the air force integrates weapons systems on the newer fighter.
2011 – 2014
F-35i development contract; Major sub-contract for F-35 wings; Nevatim will be the F-35’s base; Israel may want to buy other fighters to keep its fleet numbers up.
IAF pilot training in the USA has been pushed back steadily as the F-35 program faltered, and is now expected to start in 2016. The 1st F-35A would arrive in Israel around 2017, and modifications toward F-35i Adir standards would follow soon thereafter.
Nov 18/14: Politics.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz says that the 25-31 plane deal now has majority opposition, and will probably be cut in a compromise solution. In addition:
“Steinitz declined to go into detail about the closed-door discussions, but he cited misgivings about whether the F-35’s range, payload and manoeuvrability would suit Israel’s needs.”
If true, that creates some interesting longer-term questions. Meanwhile, Reuters quote an unnamed “Israeli defence official” re: a staggered plan of 13 F-35s now, then another 18 in 2017 to make 31. Once Israel figures out an acceptable compromise, the next challenge is that terms for the Citibank loan guarantees to pay for the F-35 buy were due to expire on Nov 15/14. That could force renegotiation, if an extension hasn’t already been secured. Sources: Jewish PRess, “Will Israel Reduce F-35 Order From US?” | Reuters, “Israel may halve second order of F-35 fighters: minister”.
Nov 6/14: Industrial. IAI Lahav formally opens its production line for F-35 wings, which has been operating since September 2014. Initial deliveries under the current contract for 20 wings will begin around May 2015, with ongoing production of about 4 wings per month. A wider Memorandum of Understanding could expand IAI’s eventual production totals as high as 811 wings, worth about $2.5 billion.
“The wings will be attached to the F-35A stealth fighters, some of which will enter the service of the IAF during 2017 and be upgraded with Israeli systems to become the F-35I (“Adir” in Hebrew). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to believe that some of the wings will return to Israel.”
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have worked with IAI before, as a supplier of wings for F-16 fighters and T-38 super sonic lead-in fighter trainers. The firm was also a producer of its own unique fighter aircraft designs until 1987, and continues to upgrade its Kfir design to this day. Even so, F-35 wing production has required “tens of millions of dollars” in investment from IAI, given the advanced materials and extreme fit tolerances involved. Sources: Israel IAF, “F-35 Wings Production Line Inaugurated” | IAI, “IAI Began Serial Production of the F-35 Fighter Wings”.
Nov 2-5/14: Politics. Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon is recommending the cancellation of several deals with the USA, including 6 MV-22 tilt-rotors, more KC-135 aerial tankers, radar-killing missiles, and radar upgrades for Israel’s F-15s – but the potential purchase of more F-35s (q.v. Oct 28/14) has survived.
After a Nov 5/14 meeting of high-level ministers, however, the $3+ billion F-35i’s prospects are in some doubt as well. Opponents reportedly include Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, retired IAF General and Agricultural Minister Yair Shamir, former defense minister Moshe Arens, and IDF ground commanders.
Recent fighting in Gaza, and developments in Lebanon and Syria, are pushing the critics to recommend buys of precision weapons, UAVs, and ground forces equipment instead. The weak protection of Israeli M113s has come in for particular criticism, and hundreds of modern armored vehicles could be bought for the same $3+ billion. Sources: Defense News, “Israeli Brass Urge MoD To Stick With V-22 Deal” | Times of Israel, “Ya’alon said to cancel aircraft purchase from US” | Times of Israel, “Ministers may look to shoot down F-35 jet deal”.
Oct 28/14: 2nd tranche? Reuters reports that Israel is looking to buy a 2nd lot of 25 more F-35s for about $3+ billion, with delivery beginning in 2019.
That timeline would force an order no later than 2017, and Israel might expand its order to 31 planes if Lockheed Martin can make good progress on promises to bring the plane’s flyaway cost down to $80 million by 2018. The approval process is still underway within the Israeli government. Sources: Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Israel to buy 25 more F-35 Lockheed stealth fighters -sources.”
Oct 28/14: F-35i. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $220.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification for Israel’s F-35 System Development and Demonstration Phase I Increment 2. This modification includes the development and demonstration of the hardware and software for the Israel F-35A/i. $77.8 million in FMS funds are committed immediately.
Work will be performed at Fort Worth, TX, and is expected to be complete in March 2019. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract on behalf of their Israeli client (N00019-12-C-0070).
Oct 27/14: LRIP-8. Lockheed Martin announces that they’ve reached an agreement in principle for the LRIP-8 contract for 43 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, including Israel’s first 2, with deliveries beginning in 2016. They don’t have a price tag, but it’s only an agreement in principle.
As of Oct 24/14, 115 F-35s have been delivered, including test aircraft. The key isn’t the aircraft, however, it’s the software required to make it an effective combat aircraft. They aren’t there yet; indeed, that effort is behind schedule. Sources: LMCO, “DOD and Lockheed Martin Announce Principle Agreement on Purchase of F-35s”.
Oct 20/14: F-35i/ ALIS. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, TX receives a $7.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification to provide updates for the Israeli effort to develop their F-35A/i and the Autonomic Logistics Global Sustainment system, under the Foreign Military Sales program. $2.6 million is committed immediately.
Work will be performed in Orlando, FL (70%), and Fort Worth, TX (30%), and is expected to be complete in December 2017. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract on behalf of their Israeli client (N00019-02-C-3002).
April 22/13: Industrial. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signs a 10-15 year contract with Lockheed Martin to produce F-35 wings, with deliveries to begin in 2015. Their production will reach beyond Israel, and the contract could be worth up to $2.5 billion over its lifetime.
IAI’s Lahav production line already produces F-16 and T-38 wings, but the F-35’s manufacturing methods and challenges are a few steps ahead. IAI is investing in the required advanced systems and technologies, and working with Lockheed martin to get the new line set up. IAI.
Major sub-contract: wings
Aug 28/12: F-35i. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Ft. Worth, TX receives a $206.8 million cost-reimbursement contract modification to pay for Phase I Increment 1, of Israel’s F-35i System Development and Demonstration. This modification includes the development of hardware and software, from the initial requirements development to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). In addition, a hardware-only post PDR will continue through finalized requirements, layouts, and build to prints, including production planning data.
Note that Pentagon contract announcements are often for the 40-50% of the total expected costs, in order to get work underway. As such, previous figures of $450 million to add Israeli radio, datalink, and electronic warfare systems could still be true. Work will be performed at Fort Worth, TX (60%); Los Angeles, CA (20%); Nashua, NH (15%); and San Diego, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in May 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD will manage this effort, on behalf of its Israeli Foreign Military Sale client (N00019-12-C-0070).
July 26/12: F-35i ECM. Reuters reports that Lockheed Martin has changed their minds and reached a $450 million agreement to include Israeli ECM/electronic warfare systems within the F-35i. This has been a long-standing and consistent concern for Israel, who needs to adapt immediately to new threats once information is gathered.
If an agreement is signed, the Israeli F-35Is would initially be distinguished by their radio, datalink, and electronic warfare systems, which would theoretically be available to other F-35 customers as an option. “Sources familiar with the negotiations” say that the Israeli systems would be integrated beginning in 2016, and that the deal is “to be finalized in coming weeks.”
F-35i Initial SDD
Dec 26/11: Other options. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel is looking for ways to bolster its fleet before the the F-35s arrive. Phased elections in Egypt, which are beginning to hand significant power to Taliban-style Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood, are creating a new strategic situation. Meanwhile, the possibility of slowdowns to the F-35 program or further cost increases leaves their affordability and timeliness in question.
Beyond upgrades to existing platforms, the Israelis are reportedly considering scenarios in which American budget cuts lead to retirement of serving F-15s and F-16s, and hence the availability of used planes at a bargain price.
Dec 12/11: Other options. The Jerusalem Post reports that delays to the F-35 program appear to be pushing Israel toward further F-16C/D upgrades, and may even trigger new aircraft buys if the multi-national program’s delivery dates slip beyond 2017.
June 30/11: F-35i. The IAF has sent 2 servicemen to the United States to serve as the lead technical team in the development of the F-35i, and integrate Israeli technology. It’s now believed that deliveries won’t begin until 2016-2017, and the IAF is reportedly looking at 2016 as the date for pilots to go through training in the USA. Jerusalem Post.
Negotiations lead to Cabinet approval and a contract for 20 “F-35i” planes.
Oct 14/10: Engines. To no-one’s surprise, Israel’s F-35As will fly with Pratt & Whitney engines. Israel’s early delivery schedule meant that the F135 was the only practical engine option.
There’s also a relationship angle to this buy. Unlike the USAF, Israel has remained a steadfast Pratt & Whitney (F100 engine) client for all of its F-16s, as well as its F-15 fleets. Pratt & Whitney.
Oct 7/10: Israeli Ministry of Defense Director General (Maj. Gen. Ret.) Udi Shani signs the F-35A Letter of Offer and Acceptance at a ceremony in New York, covering 20 F-35A fighters with an option for another 55. Lockheed Martin.
Sept 16-20/10: Approval. Israeli Prime Minister’s Office:
“The Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, has decided to approve the deal to purchase 535 [sic, they mean F-35] stealth aircraft.”
A Sept 19/10 release adds that:
“I would like to commend the staff work that was done by the security establishment and the IDF and which led to the integration of [Israeli] systems into the plane. The plane is currently being developed and will be equipped in the coming years. This is one of our answers to the changing threats around us, to maintain our attack capabilities, along with other actions to improve both our defensive and offensive abilities in the decades to come. We will hold separate discussions on these, but I think that this step, acquiring the most advanced plane in the world, more advanced than any plane in the area, is an important and significant step for the security of Israel.”
On Sept 20/10, the Knesset (Parliamentary) Finance Committee approves the purchase of 20 F-35As plus spare parts, initial maintenance and training, and simulators, for up to $2.75 billion. That approval gives the Israeli Ministry of Defense permission to make a commitment to Lockheed Martin for the purchase of the aircraft.
Aug 30/10: Industrial. Reuters reports that Israel’s F-35 industrial work package may well include wing assemblies, which would be done by Israel Aerospace Industries. A final deal is expected by late September 2010. Reuters adds:
“An Israeli official said reciprocal purchase deals worth $4 billion had been secured for Israeli companies for their participation in the plane’s manufacture and might be increased to $5 billion although it would be conditional on Israel exercising its option to buy the additional 55 planes.”
Aug 27/10: F-35i. Aviation Week reports that Israeli F-35s will be designated F-35i. Initial cockpit interfaces will allow installation of IAF command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) systems, via a plug-and-play feature in the main computer. They will also be able to carry a 600-gallon external drop tank to boost range. The biggest weakness will be electronic warfare systems. The U.S. will not grant Israel the source code to alter threat and jamming libraries, and so Israel must rely on an arrangement by which the U.S. will “make the required software changes to meet any new threat that might emerge in the region.” If they’re willing. When they get around to it.
Other priorities whose exact future is less certain include installing Python 5 and subsequent air-air missile in the F-35’s internal bays; initial F-35As will be restricted to American AIM-9Xs externally. Israel is reportedly interested in adding a version of the Stunner radar/infrared dual-mode anti-air missile from the David’s Sling anti-missile system, and will have to make changes to Rafael’s Spice GPS/IIR guided bombs, in order to fit within the F-35’s weapon bays.
The air force reportedly plans to receive the first JSF for test flights in the U.S. in 2015, with 3 more fighters delivered by the end of the year, another 3 in 2016, and the other 13 in 2017.
Aug 24/10: The F-35A will have to make a wider case in Israel. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz believes that a decision with such great defense and economic implications, should not be left solely to the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces. Instead, the F-35 will be considered by a forum of senior ministers. Ha’aretz.
August 15/10: Defense Minister Ehud Barak announces formal approval for purchasing the American F-35A. Reports indicate that Israel will buy 20 jets for about $2.75 billion, and add that the deal is a “closed package” with few to no Israeli modifications. The aircraft would be delivered from 2015-2017. If Israel chooses to buy more F-35s from later production blocks, they may have more Israeli systems.
Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani reportedly said that one of the considerations in approving the deal was an American offer of $4 billion in industrial offset contracts to Israeli defense industries. Their exact composition will be part of negotiations and future agreements with Lockheed Martin, who already has good relations with Israeli defense firms in a number of spheres. The entire deal will be funded by American military aid dollars, and still needs the Israeli cabinet’s approval before a contract can be signed and announced. Arutz Sheva | Globes | Ha’aretz | Jerusalem Post | Ynet News || Agence France Presse | Bloomberg | Reuters.
MoD F-35A approval
July 27/10: Customization. A Ha’aretz op-ed article claims that:
“And now Israel goes hat in hand pleading for a chance to be allowed to acquire the F-35 aircraft, at a price tag of $150 million each. But it’s not only the astronomical price. Israel is told that the F-35 must be taken as is – no changes or modifications to suit Israel’s specific needs, and absolutely no Israeli systems included. Take it or leave it.
Just imagine Israel’s position today had the Lavi project not been canceled…”
That claim contradicts other reports.
July 19/10: Negotiations. Reuters reports that Israel may be just “days away” from a $3 billion contract to deliver 19 F-35s. Outgoing DSCA head Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa is quoted saying that: “The ball is in their court… I am waiting for them to make a decision any day.”
Lockheed Martin VP for F-35 business development, Steve O’Bryan, added that the firm is close to reaching a FY 2010 LRIP-4 production agreement with the U.S. government for another 32 planes, adding that classified briefings have been given to other countries, including Greece and Belgium, and that Finland and Spain have expressed interest.
July 8/10: F-15SE. Boeing flies its stealth-enhanced F-15SE “Silent Eagle,” for the first time, demonstrating the weapon bay operation in flight. The next stage will involve firing an AIM-120 air to air missile from the recessed weapon bay, which is part of the plane’s conformal fuel tank.
Boeing executives are also quoted as saying that they expect export approval for the F-15SE, and have received interest for Korea. A Jerusalem Post report adds Israel to this list, citing several conversations between Israeli defense officials and Boeing about F-15SE capabilities, and possible interest in a cheaper Silent Eagle bridge buy that allows full Israeli customization, while the F-35A achieves greater cost certainty and lower production costs. The F-15SE could also fit South Korea’s interest in a KFX-3 development program, which would involve both Korean research and equipment, but use a foreign fighter as the base. Both South Korea (F-15K) and Israel (F-15I) already fly Strike Eagle variants, and the 2 countries have begun to cooperate in a number of advanced defense programs. This raises interesting speculation about the possibility of tripartite cooperation on the F-15SE. Boeing | Defense News | Jerusalem Post.
April 25/10: Customization. Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that earlier expectations of an F-35 contract by the end of 2010 appear to have faded. Instead, the IAF is looking at buying 18-24 F-15 or F-16 variants as a stopgap, and may even postpone its fighter replacement program and retain F-16As in its inventory instead. Leading candidates for the additional squadron, and possible follow-on buys, would be more F-16I or F-15Is, or collaboration with Boeing to develop and field the stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle.
With respect to 3rd party equipment issues, Jane’s adds that the Americans have approved the installation of Israeli electronic warfare systems, but no decision has been made concerning RAFAEL’s Python 5 short range air-air missile, or the dual GPS/IIR guidance Spice guided bomb. UPI.
March 8/10: Negotiations. With the American F-35 program facing a delay of a year or more before its variants enter operational service, and testing going very slowly, Israel is reportedly delaying its own contract signing. A contract was originally expected in March 2010, but media reports indicate that spring 2011 is more likely.
The reports also characterize issues of Israeli technology insertion as largely resolved, but adds that delivery delays and the $130 million minimum expected cost may give a leg up to Boeing’s F-15SE “Silent Eagle,” which could be offered for $100-100 million and be available in 2011 instead of 2014-2015. Jerusalem Post | Brahmand | Jane’s | UPI.
Feb 12/10: Negotiations. UPI reports that discussions between Israel and the USA concerning the F-35 are also covering the potentially contentious area of exports to Arab countries.
Traditionally, American weapons exported to Arab countries have been less sophisticated than the same weapons sold to Israel. Saudi Arabia’s F-15S Strike Eagles are an example of achieving that through downgrade, while Israel’s F-16I “Soufa” is an example of achieving that by letting the Israelis fully customize their aircraft with Israeli equipment. Option #2 is currently a sticking point of its own in negotiations, and non-NATO downgrades or Israeli upgrades in the stealth arena would each create their own issues.
Negotiations as cost and customization concerns come to the fore; Boeing unveils stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle;
Nov 25/09: Customization. Jon Schreiber, who heads the Pentagon’s F-35 international program, told Reuters that an Israeli version of the F-35 could include command and control systems developed in Israel, as well as the ability to carry Israeli Python 5 air-air missiles and Spice dual-mode GPS/IIR guided bombs in early model jets. Israel would also get “a relatively inexpensive path for hardware and software upgrades to add future weapons,” by which he may mean the planned reprogramming facility for the global fleet. Ha’aretz says that the boost of an Israeli endorsement has become more important to the program:
“The Americans’ willingness to soften their stance is the result of a series of meetings held by Lockheed officials and Israeli defense establishment officials three weeks ago, and also difficulties with the project, particularly concerns that orders by countries participating in the development project will be low.”
The JSF program office is still reportedly opposed to the introduction of an Israeli electronic warfare suite, but the need for fast reprogramming and tight national security regarding Israel’s knowledge of enemy signals makes that a key Israeli condition. Schreiber is quoted as saying that policy or circumstances would have to change, in order for that restriction to change. At present, the plan is for a centralized F-35 fleet signals database and electronic warfare update facility at the United States Reprogramming Laboratory in Fort Worth, TX.
Schreiber says that the United States plans to formally submit its offer and prices in January 2010. Israel must approve this no later than March 2010, and reach a deal with Lockheed on integrating the Israeli weapons and other systems by June or July 2010, in order to buy in FY 2012 and take delivery delivery in 2015. Reuters | Ha’aretz | Jerusalem Post.
Nov 24/09: Customization. Reuters reports that:
“The United States will keep to itself sensitive software code that controls Lockheed Martin Corp’s new radar-evading F-35 fighter jet… Jon Schreiber, who heads the program’s international affairs, told Reuters in an interview Monday [that] “That includes everybody,”…acknowledging this was not overly popular among the eight that have co-financed F-35 development – Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.”
Instead, the USA plans to set up a “reprogramming facility” to develop F-35-related software and distribute upgrades. The terms on which allies might use this facility, and Lockheed Martin’s ability to stall or block upgrades that might boost competing products, are not detailed. Reuters | UK’s Daily Mail | New Zealand TV | UK’s Spectator Op-Ed.
Nov 23/09: Cost. Reuters reports that order delays and reductions by several F-35 partner countries are likely to push up prices for early buyers. With respect to Britain’s F-35B orders (vid. Oct 25/09 entry), however, F-35 international program manager Jon Schreiber says:
“The only thing that they’ve told me is that they’re currently on plan – and don’t believe what you read in newspapers…”
Nov 10/09: Negotiations. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports on F-35 negotiations and the associated issues, and lays out the timetable:
“The United States is scheduled to respond next week to Israel’s express request for 25 of the jets. Jerusalem is to reach a final decision by early 2010, and there’s a good chance a deal will be signed by the middle of the year. Assuming Lockheed maintains its original production timetable the first fighters will be delivered in 2014. Two years later, Israel will have its first operational squadron of F-35s.”
Nov 4/09: Customization. Jane’s reports that Israel has decided not to integrate any Israeli equipment into its first F-35As, in order to curtail an expected price tag of over $130 million per plane. A follow-on Nov 11/09 article in Ha’aretz reports that Israeli defense firms are not at all pleased by this development:
“This time, the defense establishment skipped over this [consultation] stage and is willing to accept the American dictate that this aircraft is a closed package [technologically] and it is very difficult to make changes to it that are specific to each client,” the [industry] official said. “The air force urgently wants this aircraft and it looks like they are going to give in, which is going to result in the Israeli industry almost not participating in the largest procurement program in IDF history.”
The country is also debating the wisdom of the purchase as a whole, with the Ministry of Defence arguing for a 2-year delay in procurement. Israel’s air force has always believed in qualitative superiority over regional competitors, but the F-35A’s 2014 delivery/ 2016 in service dates would make it irrelevant to Iran’s expected hostilities. On the other hand, the funds required could buy a lot of Namer heavy IFVs and other equipment, which would be extremely valuable during the next war in Lebanon.
Lockheed Martin is trying to keep the pressure on, saying that by 2016, F-35 production slots will already be filled by other orders and may be unavailable. The question is whether this will spur Israel to begin F-35 payments on schedule in 2010, or spur them to find another aircraft.
Oct 5/09: Cost. Aviation Week reports that the proposed international consortium buy to get allies their F-35s in time, but avoid the vastly higher price tags of early-production aircraft, may have collapsed. If so, the cost repercussions are likely to affect Israel’s calculations as well:
“A plan for a five-year, eight-nation, 368-aircraft order for Joint Strike Fighters is dead, according to a senior Australian government official. According to Australian Financial Review (subscription site) Defence Management Organization chief executive Stephen Gumley has told Australia’s parliament that a lack of interest among partners, plus US procurement rules, has killed the plan. (To “cruel” something, in Australia, means approximately the same as “kibosh” – its implication is terminal.)
Gumley also told AFR that, as a result, Australia may defer its main JSF orders by two years, to 2015 (with delivery in 2017) to avoid buying high-priced low-rate initial production aircraft.”
Other reports, such as a recent Dutch KRO-Reporter TV show, quote Lockheed Martin representatives as saying that they hope to be able to offer a firm averaged price to international partners in Q1 2010.
Sept 8/09: Negotiations. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli F-35 contract signing is likely to be delayed past the target of early 2010, and continues to face problems. That may delay the F-35A’s introduction past 2014:
“A continued Pentagon refusal to integrate Israeli systems into the stealth Joint Strike Fighter will likely cause delays in the arrival of the advanced fighter jet to Israel, senior defense officials and IDF officers told The Jerusalem Post… The negotiations are still ongoing and we do not even know yet what the price of the aircraft will be,” said a top officer involved in the negotiations… Israeli demands have focused on three issues – the integration of Israeli-made electronic warfare systems into the plane, the integration of Israeli communication systems and the ability to independently maintain the plane in the event of a technical or structural problem. The British have made similar requests and according to a recent report in the Daily Telegraph is also seeking independent maintenance capabilities as well as access to some of the more classified technologies.”
July 9/09: Letter of Request. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli Air Force has submitted an official Letter of Request (LOR) to the Pentagon to purchase its first squadron of 25 F-35s:
“Defense officials said that… negotiations regarding the final price of the plane – estimated at around $100 million – as well as the integration of Israeli systems would continue. The LOR will be followed by the signing of a contract in the beginning of 2010. The first aircraft are scheduled to arrive in Israel in 2014…According to senior IDF officers, the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon have reached understandings on most of the major issues…”
April 19/09: F-15SE. The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s Air Force is reviewing Boeing’s new F-15 Silent Eagle (F-15SE, see March 17/09), as a potential alternative to Lockheed Martin’s F-35A, if export permission for a downgraded F-22 model is still refused. While the F-35’s high cost remains an issue for the Israelis, expected delivery delays to 2014 and the inability to install Israeli-made systems appear to be bigger stumbling blocks.
In contrast, the F-15SE would be available by 2011; like an F-22EX model, some additional development will be required to finalize the design. The F-15SE offers considerably more range and payload than the F-35, for less than the F-22 would cost; possibly for less than early-model F-35s would cost. Electronics and equipment flexibility would be similar to the other F-15s Israel flies, and the potential option of upgrading Israel’s 25 F-15I Strike Eagles to a similar standard offers an additional consideration.
On the flip side, the resulting aircraft would offer significantly less stealth than the F-22, and less than the F-35A as well. This would make precision strike attacks against advanced air defense systems more difficult. It would also lack the suite of integrated, embedded multi-spectral sensors, which reach their modern apotheosis on the F-35A.
April 17/09: Negotiations. Ha’aretz reports that Israel’s F-35 negotiations are still bogged down, with cost – and more so, technology transfer and control – as the key issues.
March 19/09: Negotiations. The Jerusalem Post relays word from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, who said that Israeli systems “have already been installed in the F-35… We are holding further discussions to install further systems.”
US-built models of the jet would incorporate Israeli-made data links, radios and other command and control equipment, but would reportedly exclude an Israeli-made electronic warfare suite due to the high cost of integrating the system into the plane.
March 17/09: F-15SE unveiled. Boeing unveils the F-15SE “Silent Eagle” variant. The aircraft has slightly canted vertical tails to improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, some minor radar shaping work, the addition of coatings to improve radar signature further, and a pair of conformal fuel tanks with cut-in chambers for 2 air-to-air missiles each, or air-to-ground weapons like the 500 pound JDAM and 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The tanks would be swappable for traditional conformal tanks if desired, and weapons could also be carried externally. BAE’s DEWS electronic self-protection system would be fitted, along with Raytheon’s AN/APG-63v3 radar that will equip all Singaporean F-15s and be retrofitted to the American fleet.
The intent appears to be to offer a “budget Raptor” in the $120 million range, with a basic radar signature that’s competitive with newer fighters like the similarly-priced Eurofighter Typhoon. Advantages would include better radar signature when internal carriage is used for long combat air patrols or limited precision strikes, a superior and proven AESA radar, longer range, and more total carriage capacity if necessary. On the flip side, it would not provide the same maneuverability options as canard equipped contenders like EADS’ Eurofighter or Dassault’s Rafale. The total package would come closer to parity with the SU-30MKI/M and subsequent versions of Sukhoi’s offerings, but may or may not measure up against longer-term opponents like Sukhoi’s PAK-FA or China’s J-XX. From Boeing’s release:
“Boeing has completed a conceptual prototype of the CFT internal-carriage concept, and plans to flight-test a prototype by the first quarter of 2010, including a live missile launch. The design, development, and test of this internal carriage system are available as a collaborative project with an international aerospace partner.”
March 17/09: Negotiations. Reuters quotes Pentagon official Jon Schreiber, who heads the Joint Strike Fighter’s international program, concerning potential buys by Israel and Singapore:
“I think our system will meet [Israel’s] requirements with some tweaking, and I think they’re starting to come around to that realization themselves. They have pretty tight budget constraints and we’re attempting to fit their requirements into their budget… We expect to get a revised letter of request from (Israel) within the next month or so…”
March 14-15/09: Dave Majumdar of Examiner.com proposes sending Israel the USA’s recently-decommissioned F-117A stealth attack aircraft, in order to meet Israel’s needs immediately and give them breathing room to buy the F-35 at a less expensive stage. That might be an interesting policy move for the USA, but it’s not in Lockheed Martin’s interest to do so. Part 1: The Problem | Part 2: The Solution.
Feb 25/09: Negotiations. Aviation Week quotes an Israeli Air Force general who says the F-35’s price is the biggest issue, industrial participation industries is 2nd, and the tiff about replacing U.S. electronic warfare systems with local products is 3rd.
The report adds that Elta is expected to provide its own AESA radar to replace the APG-81, without U.S. complaint, but the price tag of “more than $100 million” remains the biggest problem.
Feb 10/09: Customization. Aviation Week’s Ares publishes “JSF Secrets to Stay Secret“:
“After a long period of obtuse answers about whether foreign customers would be able to put their own systems in F-35 or customize the software themselves, the issue has been clarified.
“No,” says Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, program executive officers of the Joint Strike Fighter program… They are going to buy aircraft that have basically the same capability as all the others,” Davis says. “They are trying to do a requirements analyses for future missions. Those mission [refinements] would be submitted through Lockheed Martin [and other contractors]. That [customization] is doable through software. It is not doable by Israelis sticking boxes in the airplane. [Elbit and Elta being involved] is not an option…”
The Jerusalem Post notes that this is a significant departure; Israeli F-15s and F-16s have all been modified to carry Israeli electronic warfare, radars, munitions, and command and control systems. Israel believes that electronic warfare in particular must be local and flexible, in order to counter local, evolving threats in a timely way, rather than suffering on someone else’s schedule. Its weapons are another significant area of departure, and have become successful exports while offering their own form of insurance against both countermeasures and foreign diktat. In this case, however:
“…the US refused to conduct the negotiations [on these issues] with the [Israeli] MOD until an announcement that it would procure the plane had been made. The announcement was made in October in an official request to the Pentagon.
A defense industry source familiar with the negotiations between Israel and the US said that the talks were “tough” but predicted that a deal would be reached in the coming months and that Israel would finally place an official order.”
Feb 7/09: Cost. In a talk at the Brooking Institution, JSF program head USAF Maj.-Gen. Charles R. Davis has admitted that that the average cost of F-35 fighters will range from $80 – 90 million in current dollars, but IDF sources tell the Jerusalem Post that they believe the cost per aircraft will exceed $100 million, “making it very difficult for Israel to follow through with its initial intention to purchase 75 aircraft.” Jerusalem Post.
2007 – 2008
Plans for 100 F-35As; DSCA request for 25-75; Cost becomes a concern.
Nov 9/08: Cost. Israel remains relatively unaffected by the global financial crunch, has $3 billion per year in military aid dollars to spend within the United States, and faces growing regional threats to its existence. Lockheed Martin is seeking to finalize early orders for the F-35, in order to assure production. It seems like a natural fit. Israel is only an F-35 “security cooperation partner,” however, and its HMDS helmet-mounted display technology is its only contribution to date.
Israel traditionally incorporates an array of its technologies and weapons into American-bought fighters. A Reuters report adds that:
“A Lockheed source said seven Israeli companies had already been contracted to contribute to the [Israeli F-35] project.
On the other hand, uncertainty over the breadth of and timing that integration, questions about F-35 delivery schedules, and pricing issues are all working against contract negotiations. There are even reports that Israel is considering a renewed request for the $180 million F-22A, which could be delivered by 2011, or for additional purchases of upgraded F-16s instead.
Reuters reports that CEO Robert Stevens visited Israel in early November to lobby for an early 2009 contract, and advanced the argument that an earlier buy would translate into greater participation. The argument is also being used that Israeli investment in technology inserts would become potential export options for other F-35 customers, as was the case with the F-16. On the other hand, Defense News quoted an official in the IDF General Staff as saying that
“It’s unbelievable, first it was $40 million to $50 million, and then they [the IAF] told us $70 million to $80 million. Now, we’re looking at nearly three times that amount, and who’s to say it won’t continue to climb?”
Nov 10/08: F-22. Flight International reports that sticker shock over the proposed $200 million per plane price of F-35As, and a need for rapid delivery, may push Israel to renew its F-22EX request with the new Obama administration. An excerpt:
“This aircraft can be delivered in two years if the deal is approved [DID: 2011, vs. 2012-14 for F-35s], and that is very important for the security of Israel,” comments one Israeli source.”
Oct 16/08: Cost. The Jerusalem Post reports that:
“According to the officials, the IDF will likely hold off signing an official contract with the US Air Force to buy the jet, also known as the F-35, until the economic situation becomes clearer… One official said it was possible that if orders dropped, the cost of the plane would increase and that as a result Israel would need to reconsider the number of planes it will buy.”
Sept 26/08: Request. the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Israel official request to buy an initial 25 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, with an option to purchase at a later date an additional 50 F-35A or F-35B Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft. The estimated cost is $15.2 billion if all options are exercised, or about $200 million per plane as the in-service cost.
While the notice states that the aircraft could contain either the Pratt and Whitney F-135 engine or General Electric/Rolls Royce’s F-136 engine, in practice, the F135’s development and testing is far ahead of its rival’s. The initial aircraft are almost certain to contain PW’s F135 engines, which raises the odds that any option purchases will also use F135s for fleet commonality.
Israeli F-35s would also be equipped with unspecified Electronic Warfare Systems; Command, Control, Communication, Computers and Intelligence/ Communication, Navigational and Identification (C4I/CNI); Flight Mission Trainer; Weapons Employment Capability, and other Subsystems, Features, and Capabilities; F-35 unique infrared flares; and External Fuel Tanks. These new aircraft would also require: Flight test instrumentation; Unique systems or sovereign requirements; Reprogramming center to add new threats to the F-35′ defensive systems; Software development/ integration; Hardware/ Software In-the-Loop Laboratory Capability. Finally, maintenance will involve F-35 Performance Based Logistics services including Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS); Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS); aircraft ferry and tanker support, support equipment, tools and test equipment, spares and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documents, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of logistics and program support.
The prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX, and either Pratt & Whitney Military Engines in East Hartford, CT (extremely likely) or General Electric Fighter Engine Team in Cincinnati, OH (very unlikely). Because these systems are so new, implementation of this proposed sale will require multiple trips to Israel involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, program management, and training over a period of 15 years. U.S. contractor representatives will be required in Israel to conduct Contractor Engineering Technical Services (CETS) and Autonomic Logistics and Global Support (ALGS) for after-aircraft delivery.
Oct 25/07: Early delivery? Israel may begin taking deliveries of the F-35 in 2012, a couple years earlier than expected and only slightly after the USA begins receiving production aircraft of its own. 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.
Read “F-35s to Israel Early?” for full coverage.
June 21/06: Plans for 100. Israel’s globe’s Online interviews Brigadier-General Ze’ev Snir, who confirms that the IAF is looking to replace its F-16s with the F-35, at a cost estimated at at least $5 billion for 100 aircraft, or about $50 million per. That figure was always very questionable, given the F-35 program’s price increases and the additional costs associated with placing a new aircraft type in service.
The F-35 also fits into a broader modernization effort. Israel is also reportedly considering several near-term IAF procurements, including a possible buy of 6 C-130J Hercules transports plus associated support & equipment at a cost of about $500 million [requested July 2008, up to $1.9 billion], as well as a $100 million upgrade of Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters to extend their operational lifespan by 20 years. See full Globes Online article.
- DID – Lightning Rod: F-35 Fighter Family Capabilities and Controversies.
- DID – Israel Requesting F-22EX Fighters.
- The F-35’s Air-to-Air Capability Controversy. Can the aircraft hold its own against existing fighter competitors like the Russian SU-30 family, French Rafale, the Eurofighters flown by Saudi Arabia, etc.?
- DID – Israel Kicks Off Program to Improve Its F-16s and F-15s.
- Ha’aretz (July 27/10) – F-35 – take it or leave it.
- Aviation Week (June 11/09) – Boeing Studies Stealth Eagle Options. Interesting point made re: retrofits and stealth sales: “It’s not how low can you go, it’s how low are you allowed to go, and the U.S. government controls that,” says Brad Jones, Boeing program manager for F-15 future fighters. “We can get to different levels depending on the country.”
- DID (Aug 22/05) – Follow-Up: Tech Transfers to Israel Resume, Conditionally.
- DID (Apr 19/05) – Reports: Israel Frozen out of F-35 Development.