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Israel’s custom F-35

NewsIsrael's custom F-35

How Israel has managed to have a customized F-35 fighter, the only one in the world

The war in Ukraine has stoked fears in Eastern European countries of a possible Russian attack beyond their borders, a situation that is prompting various governments to consider rearming and modernizing their Air Forces. This is the case of the Czech Republic, which has announced that it wants to replace the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighters with a total of 24 fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets.

Greece also seems to be willing to add the Lochkeed Martin fighter to its fleet. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after the NATO summit in Madrid that he has initiated contacts with the United States to acquire 20 units of the F-35, despite the fact that Athens has been buying French Rafale fighters since last year.

Switzerland chose in 2021 to purchase several F-35s, but in recent days France is trying to convince the Swiss government to opt for French Rafale fighters for its fighter fleet. Other non-European countries have also entrusted their air defense to the F-35, such as South Korea, where six more fighters arrived this week from the United States for joint maneuvers.

U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin has already sold close to 1,000 units of the F-35 worldwide, which experts believe allows it to lower the price.

But if there is one country that is profiting from the purchase of what is considered the most expensive fighter in history, it is Israel. In fact, it is arguably the only state in the world to have used this fifth-generation aircraft in combat, whose greatest virtues include stealth, allowing it to go unnoticed by the S-300 missiles delivered to Iran by Russia. In fact, Israel has used this stealth fighter twice in combat actions. And on both occasions it has been against Iranian targets, the great enemy of the Israeli nation.

The first appearance of an Israeli F-35 occurred in May 2018, when the Israeli Air Force executed a strike against Iranian missile launch platforms in Syria. Israel inducted its first F-35s in 2016 in response to the Iranian challenge and with the goal of maintaining military superiority in the area.

The second F-35 engagement was in air-to-air combat, albeit against drones (unmanned aircraft), in March 2021. On this occasion, Israeli fighter pilots from the 116th and 140th squadrons shot down two Iranian UAVs threatening to invade Israeli territory.

Israel is also the only country in the world to have succeeded in “customizing” the famous Lockheed Martin-built U.S. fighter by incorporating a model destined for the flight test center at Tel Nof air base equipped with an open software architecture that no other country in the world possesses. This Israeli version of the fighter is called the F-35I Adir. Although Lockheed-Martin has refused to make specific substantial modifications to the F-35 for its customers, Israel has been an exception. Why? Israeli defense companies were involved in the development of these aircraft, which has allowed their local military industry to manufacture sophisticated assemblies resulting in an F-35I variant that can be modified by the Israeli Air Force, as it has access to the aircraft’s advanced digital architecture, including its communication systems, electronic warfare and surveillance suite and mission control hardware.

One of the biggest challenges for the Israeli Defense regarding the use of the F-35I is the flight range in the possibility of an attack against Iranian territory, specifically against nuclear research facilities. The shortest air route between the center of the two countries is about 1,800 kilometers. In this regard, extending the F-35I’s flight path remains a priority for Israel, which is why its military authorities have requested external fuel tanks to prevent Israeli fighters from running out of fuel on their return in a hypothetical operation from Iran and, at the same time, the US Congress has asked the White House to speed up the process of delivering the KC-46 refueling tanker to Israel, which would allow a dozen Israeli aircraft to stay in the air for 12 hours with a range of more than 11,000 kilometers.

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