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Appendix to the chapter on US aid:

The Purchase of the F-35

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons development project in history. Its development has encountered serious difficulties and has not yet been completed[1]. Israel has hesitated for years on whether to invest in it worthwhile[2], and finally, after unprecedented negotiations in terms of the pressures exerted and restrictions imposed on Israel during them, it was decided to adopt it, at a heavy price.

A major advantage of the aircraft is its “stealth” capability, which means that it is more difficult to detect it by radar[3], but this capability comes at the cost of serious deficits.[4] Compared to the F-15I[5], the Air Force’s strategic aircraft, the F-35’s strategic aircraft:

  • Cannot reach the nuclear facilities deep inside Iran without refueling. The F-15I can.[6]

  • Can carry a far lower arms load than the F-15I.

  • Cannot carry large bunker-busting bombs[7] from the model the US has supplied to Israel. Our F-15Is carry them.

  • Cannot carry the air-to-air missiles manufactured in Israel, which are the best in the world, and Israel was therefore forced to purchase $500 million worth of American air-to-air missiles for it, which are not as good.[8]

  • It is not possible to install many systems developed in Israel for the Air Force. The F-15I is full of unique Israeli systems.[9]

  • And some other fundamental differences, in the air and on the ground, but we will suffice with these.

Today, the Air Force has only one squadron of the F-15I, the strategic aircraft of the Air Force. In November 2016, even before the first F-35 arrived in Israel, the government decided to increase the supply of F-35s to two squadrons, with the possibility of adding a third squadron. However, although the F-35 is more “stealthy” and much newer, it is reported that Israel is still considering buying another F-15I squadron instead of another F-35 squadron[10].

In an interview on the occasion of the arrival of the first F-35s to Israel, the head of the Israel Air Force emphasized the expected role of the Israeli Air Force in providing intelligence assistance to other fighter planes. When asked if Israel would still have to purchase additional F-15s or only F-35s, his answer was: “It’s not simple.”

Zehut, of course, does not pretend to determine how many planes and what types the Air Force needs. However, it is clear that the process that led to the decision to use the F-35 was extremely unusual and posed serious questions, compared with previous procurement transactions[11]. Which begs the question: why did Israel spend $7.5 billion[12] from the American “aid” budget to equip itself with the F-35? Is it really the most suitable and necessary for the IDF, or because the Americans have put pressure on all decision-makers in Israel in order that Israel will buy their newest plane, and not necessarily the most suitable plane that we need? Because this “aid” would pay off for them - for them, but not for us.




[1] “The F-35 program is not on the path to success; instead it is moving towards operational failure,” the head of the Operational and Development branch of the US Department of Defense concluded in the summer of 2016 (source link).

[2] Zehut, of course, is entirely in favor of continuing to strengthen our air force. But every such decision has advantages and disadvantages, and alternatives. In the case of the F-35, the list of disadvantages, as published, is unprecedentedly severe and concerning compared to all previous cases.

[3] “The F-35 is not full stealth, but has a low signature” - the head of the Air Force’s headquarters said in an interview in December 2016.

[4] As detailed, for example, in two articles published in Calcalist on 3 Apr 2016 and 4 Apr 2016

[5] “At the end of the day, when we want to arrive with a few aircraft and a lot of armament to a remote location, the F-15I wins” - the head of the Air Force’s aircraft division, in response to a question about the capabilities of the F-35 against the F-15I, 19 Jan 2016.

[6] The maximum attack radius of the F-35 in stealth mode is 1,158 km without refueling, and the F-15I attack radius is up to 1,850 km without refueling [Source: Wikipedia and “Global Security”, the above articles in “Calcalist.”] The direct distance from Israel to the Iranian uranium enrichment facilities at Fordo and Natanz is about 1,550 and 1,600 kilometers.

[7] The bomb bays of the F-35 can contain two bombs weighing up to 1,135 kg. Israel received 155 very large GBU-28 bunkers, each weighing two and a quarter tons with a length of over five and a half meters. The F-15I aircraft can carry these bombs. The F-35 cannot.

[8] Announcement by the US Defense Department about the purchase of 600 air-to-air missiles for $544 million. It is the only sub-model of the same missile that is suitable for use in the F-35’s internal armament, and Israel has no other need for it, since Israeli-made missiles are better suited to all other IAF fighter jets (source link).

[9] Sample sources from the period before the decision to purchase the F-35: references to articles in Maariv, Maariv, Walla, and Mako from the end of 2016.

[10] “Israel Today” and other newspapers, 28 Nov 16.

[11] The closest and most similar comparison, in terms of the expectations of a huge leap forward that a new plane would give the Air Force, was the purchase of the F-15 aircraft 40 years ago. Even then they spoke in terms very similar to the purchase of the F-35 today, and the planes were relatively much more expensive then the F-35 is today. But then it was clear, all along, that the amazing new plane would be worth the huge investment in it, would give tremendous value, and so it was. There were not as many and as severe question marks as there are around the F-35 today.

[12] Total cost of purchase of aircraft and special ground infrastructures for them.

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