History in the making: IAF has recently initiated the establishment of a new squadron for the state-of-the-art F-35 future fighters, designated "Adir" in Israel.
The squadron is being established at an IAF airbase in the southern region of Israel, and its first commander will be Lt. Col. Yotam.
The establishment of a squadron is a primary phase in the process of assimilating a new aircraft by IAF. This is the first new fighter model to enter service with IAF since the delivery of the Sufa (F-16I) fighters in the beginning of the last decade.
In a first transaction, IAF acquired 14 fighters from the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. A subsequent transaction will involve the manufacture of 17 additional fighters, but IAF intends to acquire a total of two squadrons (50 fighters) of the new fighters initially, and in the long run – 75 fighters that would form three squadrons. The first aircraft intended for IAF are already being built on the production line of Lockheed Martin.
Israel Defense has learned that Lockheed Martin and IAF are currently discussing the feasibility of extending the range of the “Israeli” version of the F-35 future fighter by 30%.
This issue was also discussed during the Paris Air Show in June 2015, which was attended by a delegation of senior Lockheed Martin representatives (the same delegation arrived in Israel at a later time for further discussions). At the same time, an IAF team is already present in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, where IAF specialists work on the aircraft in preparation for their delivery to Israel in late 2016.
Reports have indicated that Israel wishes to introduce various upgrades to the F-35 aircraft, which is being exported to numerous countries around the world. Sources involved in the process said that the future fighters will be fitted with state-of-the-art Israeli systems. "Israel will significantly upgrade the aircraft, just as it did in the past with the F-15 and F-16 fighters," said those sources.
One of the issues discussed and revealed here for the first time is the option of extending the range of the new fighter by means of additional fuel tanks. Israel may be interested in extending the operational range of the new fighter in order to minimize dependence on airborne refueling in long-range missions and minimize the number of take-off and landing cycles in missions that do not involve airborne refueling.
It should be noted that in the past, Lockheed Martin had already manufactured a special version, exclusively for IAF, of the F-16 fighter, which included additional fuel tanks.
The development of a special “Israeli” version of the F-35 future fighter will have to overcome the issue of the increased over-all area of the aircraft envelope, so as to minimize the adverse effect on the stealth characteristics of the fighter (its ability to evade enemy Radar detection). The first F-35 aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to Israel in December 2016.
Some of the upgrades that are exclusive to Israel may be introduced during the assimilation of the first two squadrons by IAF in the coming years.
At present, the range of the F-35 fighter is about 1,150 kilometers (longer than the range of the F-15 and F-16 fighters). Extending the range could provide IAF with the ability to operate against targets in Iran, although even the extended range (1,500 km) will not enable the aircraft to take off from Israel, reach Iran and return without airborne refueling, as the range to the targets in Iran is at least 1,000 kilometers.