The Golden Eagles are on their Way to Israel

The preparations for the arrival of the first F-35 aircraft are under way. An exclusive review of the cutting-edge fighter aircraft expected to revolutionize the Israeli Air Force and the aerial warfare doctrine employed in the Middle East

It will take place on Monday, December 12, 2016. In the presence of Israel's national leaders, two F-35 fighters, IAF designation 'Adir', will land at Nevatim IAF base. According to international law, once the aircraft wheels have touched the ground, the aircraft is officially transferred to the possession of the Israeli Government. A technical flight team will approach the aircraft and attach the emblem of the newly-established IAF squadron – the Golden Eagle Squadron. 

At this time, four aircraft intended for IAF are already on the assembly line and the Israeli flag flies over the assembly station. On June 22, the roll-out ceremony will be held, where the first complete aircraft will roll out of the hangar. Next summer, the F-35 will make its debut flight appearance to the aviation world at the Farnborough International Airshow near London, England. The complete designation of this aircraft is F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). On December 12, the first pair of 'Adir' fighters will depart for Nevatim IAF base, Israel.

In fact, the Golden Eagle Squadron already exists. It has a commander and functionaries, and the set-up team, made up of both air crew and ground crew personnel, is already hard at work. A demonstration simulator has already been installed at Nevatim in order to provide an initial introduction to the new aircraft. The real simulator, capable of simulating the entire range of the Adir's performance, will be delivered in early 2017. In the summer of 2016, the first IAF pilots selected for the first Adir squadron will arrive at Lockheed Martin's training facilities in the USA. Ahead of them, the men and women of the technical flight will arrive at the same facilities in order to study the maintenance secrets of the F-35. So, 2016 will become the Adir training year.

All of the preparations at the Golden Eagle Squadron are progressing under unprecedented confidentiality restrictions imposed by IAF, whose history has included the assimilation of quite a few new fighter aircraft types. IAF sources explained that the strict confidentiality requirements were presented by the Americans, who are apprehensive about industrial espionage. Apparently, the Chinese and the Russians would love to learn the secrets of the F-35. Accordingly, the squadron buildings and the deep underground pens at Nevatim IAF base are all being erected by teams from the US Corps of Engineering. The secrecy of the aircraft systems and everything associated with it are kept strictly under wraps.

The Lockheed Martin Corporation announced officially that "In the context of FMS (Foreign Military Sales – the agreements concerning military sales to foreign countries), the Director General of the Israel Ministry of Defense had signed, on October 7, 2010, a document for the procurement of F-35 aircraft (conventional landing and take-off). The agreement includes cooperation between the two countries with regard to technologies and know-how and an opportunity for manufacturing by the Israeli defense industries. While the Israeli Air Force plans a reduction of its old F-15 and F-16 squadrons, the F-35 will continue to guarantee Israel's global advantage. The Israeli Air Force designated the cutting-edge aircraft 'Adir'."

The aircraft is currently operated out of 10 airbases. So far, 145 aircraft were commissioned, logging 45,000 hours. More than 240 pilots and 2,400 maintenance personnel have been trained. In July 2015, the US Navy announced that they had declared the aircraft operational. USAF is in the process of establishing one operational squadron this year. 12 aircraft will be delivered to the UK, Australia, Italy, Holland and Norway and in the future – to Japan, South Korea and Israel. So far, more than 160 aircraft were manufactured and 105 were delivered. The procurement plan calls for 600 aircraft to be delivered to allies of the USA and 2,443 aircraft to be delivered to the three armed services of the US military.

"We must revise our Doctrine"

Some lucky IAF officers were already introduced to F-35 aircraft that are in use in the USA. Brig. Gen. Amiram Norkin visited the USAF training base, "checked the goods thoroughly" and had this to say: "We are used to flying low with our F-16s and F-15s. Now we must revise our doctrine. The F-35 has a small signature and this will enable us to fly higher. It is a fifth-generation aircraft that requires fifth-generation tactics. It will change the Middle East." Even before the final decision was made and the procurement contracts were signed, the commander of IAF in those days, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, had said "This aircraft has a unique operational added value. If the State of Israel possessed something as unique as the F-35, especially if we were the only ones possessing it – it would have a strategic significance." Nechushtan flew the simulator and his impression was that "A major part of it is in getting to know and understand the operation of the sensors that provide the pilot with extensive information." Later on, Col. Dror, who in those days was Head of the IAF Weapon Systems Department, also flew the F-35 simulator and said "It was definitely impressive. The advanced ergonomics in the cockpit enable personal adaptation to the requirements of every (individual) pilot. I was airborne for 40 minutes and executed a vertical take-off and landing." Col. U., who was the Head of the IAF Budget & Auditing Department, said that "In this deal of a multi-mission aircraft, IAF knew what it wanted operationally. The plan is an IAF plan. We have extensive experience, but this deal is more challenging owing to the innovative nature of a fifth-generation aircraft. The strategic situation in the Middle East and our current operational need had led us to want to be the first."

Like any other new aircraft, the F-35 had its share of 'childhood diseases'. This was further inflated by reports, rumors and slander by competitors regarding delays in the project timetable and malfunctions identified in the various systems. Shiki Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel, assured us that "The project has safely negotiated the labor pain stage. The delivery timetable vis-à-vis all of the various air forces is being adhered to very strictly. The manufacturer won a difficult and prolonged competition over others, and it is normal for competitors to try and subvert the winner. The bottom line is this: there is no other aircraft like the F-35 anywhere in the western world today.

"Why does IAF need the F-35? The fourth-generation aircraft, F-16 and F-15, are becoming obsolete. IAF decommissions some of its aircraft and needs to fill the ranks. The first F-16 aircraft are already being decommissioned and the first F-15 aircraft have reached the end of their service life. In the theater of operations surrounding us there are, and there will be, the latest surface-to-air anti-aircraft batteries like the S-300 and S-400. IAF must have the ability to shoot down without being shot down, hence the importance of stealth. Another characteristic that is important to the theater: the ability to take off and land using short, 100-200 meter long runways. Short take-off and vertical landing. All of these capabilities are offered by the 'Adir'."

Paul Poitras, a senior executive at Lockheed Martin, had this to say about the importance of the aircraft's stealth capabilities: "The integration of stealth and the other systems of the aircraft and its performance characteristics yield a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. Stealth does not make the F-35 completely invisible, but it disrupts the enemy's ability to spot and destroy you. The aircraft is built so as to push away Radar energy. The energy will slide off the surface of the aircraft frame just as water slides off a smooth pebble."

Airborne Surveillance Station

The stealth characteristic determined the external shape and geometrics of the F-35. Admittedly, its Radar signature is not nil, but it is very small, which makes it difficult to lock onto it in order to launch munitions against it. The aircraft frame is made from special materials painted with layers of coating and Radar-absorbing paints. This special airframe structure calls for maintenance methods that are different from those used on previous-generation fighter aircraft: drilling or riveting through the aircraft frame are impossible, so as not to damage the paintwork layers and composite materials that provide the aircraft with its stealth characteristics. This was the reason for the Americans' aspiration to have the maintenance of all F-35 aircraft performed centrally at maintenance centers deployed around the world, manned by Lockheed Martin specialists and containing their own stores.

IAF does not like this method – and that is an understatement. It has always preferred to service and maintain its aircraft on its own. Lockheed Martin assured us that agreements were already reached with the Pentagon, and that this controversy will be resolved. IAF will become a part of the global maintenance system, but some maintenance procedures will be performed at home. 

Shiki Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel, a former senior IAF officer and pilot, praises in particular the pilot helmet and the intelligence data processing options available to the Adir pilots. These capabilities involve computer systems and sensors that translate data into targets: "This aircraft is particularly suitable for the present generation of youngsters who were born into the era of personal computers, smartphones and iPads. Pilots tell me that flying this aircraft is similar to a computer game. It is important because it leaves the pilot of this single-seater fighter sufficient time to absorb the information, process it and, naturally – to fight. For example, how do you launch a missile from an aircraft whose entire armament is carried internally? We use the Lock-before-Launch method – the pilot locks the missile onto the target, then opens the armament bay, the missile engine ignites, the missile starts to move and departs toward the target. The pilot performs almost all of these procedures using his helmet. The helmet and sight system by Rockwell Collins and Elbit are a breakthrough: Look and Shoot – the pilot moves his head, spots a target/threat at a range of 100 miles and launches. The missile may be launched from the pilot's own aircraft or from a neighboring aircraft. The helmet alone, for all of the aircraft, is a 2.5 billion dollar project."

An American test pilot said about the helmet that "It has a dual screen, a noise filter, it is adaptable for night flying, offers 360-degree vision including the ability to look down, below you. The F-16 informs you that a problem exists and what the problem is. The F-35 not only alerts you of a problem – but can also fix it."

The cockpit of the F-35 has been defined as an airborne surveillance station. The information available to the pilot regarding targets for attack in real time is more extensive than in any other fighter aircraft. The pilot can determine which blips on his Radar screen represent 'good guys' and which ones represent 'bad guys', as the various software packages on board the aircraft synthesize the information and prioritize it for the pilot, telling him which targets are 'friend' and which are 'foe'.

Such an extensive range of software might one day prove tempting to computer hackers and destructive aviation hackers. The designers had taken this into consideration, and the F-35 is fitted, as part of its super computer, with a highly rigid cyber security system to prevent cyber warfare attacks against the aircraft while it is in the air, on the ground or even at sea (on board an aircraft carrier). Mike Panchenko, cyber warfare engineering chief at Lockheed Martin, adds that "To ensure the safety of the F-35, we employ the Cyber Kill Chain – a special kit for suppressing threats, including cyber warfare threats." 

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