Lockheed Martin and the IAF are in negotiations to examine the possibility of extending the flight range of the Israeli version of the future fighter aircraft F-35 by 30%.
The issues was discussed during the Paris Air Show, attended by a delegation of senior representatives of Lockheed Martin (who arrived in Israel this week for another round of talks). At the same time, it is known that a team of the IAF is currently in Fort Worth, Texas, to work on the aircraft, in preparation for its arrival in Israel at the end of 2016.
According to current knowledge, Israel is seeking to implement improvements in the aircraft, which is also exported to many countries around the world. Sources who are involved in the matter said that the aircraft will feature advanced Israeli systems. "Israel will significantly improve the aircraft as it once did with the F-15 and F-16", sources said.
One of the topics discussed, and exposed here for the first time, is the possibility of extending the flight range of the aircraft using additional fuel tanks. Israel may be interested in extending the flight range to reduce the dependence on aerial refueling in long-term missions, and reduce the need for takeoffs and landings in missions without aerial refueling.
It should be noted that in the past Lockheed Martin had produced a special version of the F-16 fighter jet with additional fuel tanks, for the Israeli Air Force.
The development of a special version of F-35 for Israel will have to "overcome" the new larger size of the aircraft and attempt to preserve its stealth capabilities as much as possible.
Some of the improvements that are unique to Israel might take into effect during the absorption of the two first F-35 squadrons in the IAF in the coming years.
The current flight range of the F-35 stands at approximately 1150 kilometers (larger than the range of the F-15 and F-16). Extending the flight range may allow the IAF to action also against Iranian targets. Nevertheless, even the longer flight range (1,500 km) would not allow the aircraft to reach Iran and back without refueling, since Iranians targets are located at a range of at least 1000 km.
In the coming week, a nuclear deal between Iran and the Western powers is supposed to be signed. In recent days, both sides are holding marathon discussions towards the end of the negotiating period. Iran has hardened its stance in recent days. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday in a speech that Tehran will not agree to the requirements of the powers. He claimed that the West "wants to wipe out our nuclear program".