Israel’s 5th Generation Fighter

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1922
The new emblem of IAF140 Squadron, the first to fly the F35 ADIR. Photo: IAF

The first two F-35s expected to land in Israel next week will be the first 5th Generation jet fighters the U.S. hands out to a foreign ally. The two ADIR Jets are only the beginning. Over the next eight years, Israel will receive 50 aircraft forming two full ADIR squadrons flying the F-35. No. 140 Squadron will be the first to receive the new fighters.

The initial batch of 19 is being delivered in the standard ‘A’ configuration while the remaining 31 will be fully equipped F-35Is, fitted with indigenous Israeli systems and weapons.

As the first 5th Generation stealth combat aircraft to enter operational service outside the USA, the ADIR introduces new dimensions of air warfare, hitherto available only for the US Air Force.

The new fighter will benefit from extremely low radar signature, enabling it to operate undetected inside enemy territory and within missile defended airspace.

Besides, the unique networking capability allows a team of several F-35s to share sensor information, situational picture, and tactical decisions,  thus dominate an airspace much larger than previous generation fighters could do.

While the F-35 is not as fast as its predecessors, it is designed to fly longer and faster than most fighter jets, using internally stored fuel and armament, thus maintain the low-observable characteristics of the aircraft.

Such sensor fusion and cooperative mission performance will enable ADIR to operate autonomously, without dependency and support on other aircraft that may be vulnerable to enemy defenses or provide early warning to the enemy.

These capabilities and other attributes of the new fighter will provide the Israel Air Force a game-changing platform that has not been seen in the region since the introduction of the F-15 Eagle (by the IAF), 40 years ago.

Israel is the first, but not the only nation getting new Christmas gifts this year; Saudi Arabia is also expecting its first six ‘Advanced Eagles’ this month.

As for the F-35, all other operators except Israel are keeping their jets at Luke Air Force Base in the USA to support the joint training center.

The US Air Force’s 944th Fighter Wing is the training unit responsible for supporting all foreign customers, including Israel, South Korea, Japan, and the F-35 partner nations – Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

However, unlike all other countries Israel opted to have its planes delivered to the country, to get the first unit operational as quickly as possible.

By the end of 2017, Israel is expected to have nine ADIR jets operational.

Infographic: Courtesy: Lockheed MartinCou

Israel Air Force Base in Nevatim will be the first ADIR operating base.

The first aircraft that arrive on Monday will help train the unit’s cadre of aircrews and ground support personnel, by the first teams that returned from training in the USA.

The new squadron is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) in few months. The pilots selected to man the first unit are all experienced fighter pilots but the F-35 will not be exclusive for veterans – in two years pilots fresh from flight school will be accepted to transition to the new fighter.

The first two Lockheed F-35As for the Israeli Air Force are flying from Fort Worth to Nevatim Air Force Base in Israel this week. The transit flight is supported by a US Air Force KC-135R tanker. Photo via IDF Spokesman

Throughout the training and operational use, the IAF plans to utilize flight simulators extensively.

Pilots are expected to fly about half the flight hours on the aircraft and half on simulators.

The rate of the simulator to flight hours may even increase after the air force gains experience with the new platform.

Maintenance, including the most complex D-checks, will also be done in the country, in maintenance and support facilities that will be established specifically for the new jet.

36 years back, in July 1980 when Israel received the first F-16A fighter jets, it took the first squadron few weeks to achieve IOC and, once operational status validated, eight of the new aircraft were sent on the longest mission the IAF ever flew until then, to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Nowadays Israel operates regularly over the Middle East, although Jerusalem rarely takes credit for these activities.

Having a stealth fighter that can go anywhere, virtually unseen, would become a significant capability to maintain Israel’s claimed freedom of action.

Israel’s appetite for the new stealth fighter is not satisfied with the 50 jets it has already committed to buying.

The Israel Air & Space Force (IAF) plans (and lobbies locally and abroad) to get the third squadron, which is likely to fly the F-35B Vertical Short Takeoff and Landing (VSTOL) variant also used by the US Marine Corps.

Although the B variant is often used from aircraft carriers (RAF) and landing support ships (USMC), the fact that it can use short runways will enable the IAF to maintain operational tempo even after its bases suffer attacks from ballistic missiles or rockets.

Israel already faces constant threats from hundreds of thousands of such rockets and missiles, some of them equipped with precision guidance capability enabling an efficient attack on strategic targets such as air bases.

The IAF prepares for such contingency, but the introduction of VSTOL capable F-35B along with V-22B Tilt Rotor aircraft that could be used for aerial refueling of these jet fighters would provide a significant improvement in this field.

While the acquisition of the B model is supported at the political level, officials within the IAF are not keen on acquiring this aircraft, due to its shorter range, the limited payload carrying capability and higher cost.

The first six F-15 Advanced (formerly F-15SA) aircraft were completed and are slated for delivery to Saudi Arabia this month. Photo: Boeing

The alternative to the F-35 has always been buying more F-15s. The F-15 is still in production, and, in fact, keep getting better over time.

Designated ‘F-15 Advanced’ (formerly F-15SA) the new fighter jet is currently undergoing test and evaluation flights, before delivery of the first six aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is expected to receive the new planes in few weeks.

They will be based at the Royal Saudi Air Force airbase in Tabuk. The Saudi aircraft is considered the most advanced F-15 variant ever built.

It is equipped with many advanced features, including two powerful engines, new AESA radar, redesigned cockpit a new generation electronic-warfare (EW) self protection system that implements capabilities developed for 5th Generation fighters (F-22/35) and infra-red search track (IRST) pods.

Its speed and payload carrying capability exceed that of the F-35A, but the ADIR is superior in maneuverability, stealth, and sensor fusion performance. Qatar has also selected the F-15QA – the 36 Advanced Eagles will replace French Mirage 2000 jets made by Dassault Aviation. Qatar has an option to double the number of planes it will buy.

The first batch of 36 will cost US$4 billion.

The F-35 acquisition is the most expensive procurement project ever made by Israel, but it is not the only one on the table.

The IAF still maintains a powerful strike force of F-15I ‘Raam’ (Thunder) aircraft that entered service in 1998. As demand for F-15s is maintained, particularly within the Middle East, the Advanced Eagle production line is expected to remain hot at least until late 2019, allowing Israel to buy few more of these planes.

As a temporary measure, the Pentagon agreed to transfer 10 F-15D (two seaters) aircraft from US Air Force surplus to Israel, to compensate for attrition and provide spare parts.

However, as reflected from the Qatari deal, the cost of a new F-15 (improved over the current Israeli I model) is over $110 million.

In comparison, the cost of the F-35A continues to decrease, with higher volume and implementation of cost cutting measures.

Despite these efforts, the price of an F-35A including its engine is still above $100 million but is expected to go below $85 million when production lines of aircraft and engines pick up higher volumes.

Photos of the F-35 taken at the Lajes air force base in the Azores, are published here courtesy of Miltary Aviation Review – Andre Inacio

Above and below – Israeli Air Force Lockheed F-35I 902 arriving at Lajes on 06.12.16; The two aircraft arrived at the Lajes Air Base in the Azores on December 06, 2016. The aircraft wore serials 901 “Retro11” and 902 “Retro12” and were supported by US Air Force KC-135R 64-14836 “Blue71”. (Photo: Miltary Aviation Review – Andre Inacio)

Multi-Mission Capability for Emerging Global Threats

The designation of fighter aircraft by “generations” began with the first subsonic jets toward the end of World War II, with each new generation reflecting a major advance in technology and capability. The F-35 Lightning II is referred to as a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth capabilities with fighter aircraft speed and agility, fully-fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced logistics and sustainment.

The supersonic, multi-role F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability with enhanced lethality and survivability in hostile, anti-access airspace environments.

The F-35 combines 5th Generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-35’s advanced stealth allows pilots to penetrate areas without being detected by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade.

The F-35 is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing new flexibility and capability to the United States and its allies. Reliance on any single capability — electronic attack, stealth, etc. — is not sufficient for success and survivability in the future. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft — air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s.

“People think stealth is what defines 5th Gen[eration aircraft]. It’s not the only thing.
It’s stealth and then the avionics and the fusion of avionics.”
—Gen. Mike Hostage, Former Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force

Electronic Attack

Advanced electronic warfare (EW) capabilities enable F-35 pilots to locate and track enemy forces, jam radars and disrupt attacks with unparalleled effectiveness. Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with 360-degree coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations. This system allows F-35 pilots to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars.

Air-to-surface

The F-35’s very low-observable (VLO) stealth allows it to safely enter defended airspace areas without being seen by radars that 4th Generation and earlier legacy fighters cannot evade. The combination of the stealth features, active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar technology, and the aircraft’s ability to carry its full component of weapons stores and fuel internally allows F-35 pilots to engage ground targets at longer ranges without being detected and tracked, using precision-guided munitions and air-to-air radar-guided  missiles to successfully complete air-to-ground missions. In this “clean” configuration, the F-35 will enter the air battlespace first, clearing the way with air dominance for follow-on legacy coalition forces to operate with relative impunity.

Air-to-air

The F-35’s integrated sensors, information and weapons systems give pilots an advantage over potential threat front-line fighter aircraft. Compared to 5th Generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22, legacy aircraft have a larger radar cross-section (RCS), which means they can be more easily detected by enemy radar. In aerial combat, legacy aircraft have relatively equal opportunities to detect and engage one another, while a 5th Generation fighter pilot can see enemy aircraft first and take decisive, lethal action from a stand-off distance. The ability to see and not be seen is redefining previous generation air-to-air tactics.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)

Drawing on the advantage of stealth, advanced sensors, and data fusion providing enhanced pilot situational awareness, F-35 pilots can fly critical ISR missions with more sophisticated data capture than any previous fighter aircraft. The F-35 has the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, giving pilots 360-degree access to “real-time” battlefield information. The information gathered by F-35 sensors can be securely shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing a comprehensive view of ongoing operations.

Much of the F-35’s electronic warfare and ISR capabilities are made possible by a core processor that can perform more than 400 billion operations per second. This core processor collects data from the classified electronic warfare suite, developed by BAE Systems, to identify enemy radar and electronic warfare emissions and, as happens with the eight sensor Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) providing the pilot 360-degree coverage, recommending which target to attack and whether he or she should use either kinetic or electronic means to counter or negate the threat.

Unparalleled Stealth

The F-35’s stealth capabilities are unprecedented in tactical fighter aviation. An integrated airframe design, advanced materials and other features make the F-35 virtually undetectable to enemy radar. Extensive analysis and flight test of the survivability of the F-35 with its combination of stealth, advanced sensors, data fusion, sophisticated countermeasures, and electronic attack demonstrate conclusively its superior advantages over legacy aircraft.

Interoperability

When it comes to having a ‘quarterback’ for the coalition joint strike force, the inter-operable F-35 is clearly the aircraft for the leadership role. The F-35 is designed to share everything it can see with other aircraft and operation centers to expand situational awareness across the entire network of aircraft. F-35s can support legacy aircraft, as well as other F-35s, to achieve mission success and survivability using a combination of stealth, electronic attack, information sharing, and other measures.

Full Mission Systems Coverage

The term “mission systems” refers to the avionics, integrated electronic sensors, displays and communications systems that collect and share data with the pilot and other friendly aircraft, at sea and on the ground. The F-35 has the most robust communications suite of any fighter aircraft built, to date. Components include the AESA radar, EOTS targeting system, Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), and the Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) Avionics.

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