A welcome decision made back in 2008 to purchase U.S.-made Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jets no longer appears very attractive in 2016 – and Israel is considering backtracking on it.
So say Israeli government sources quoted by Middle East Newsline (MENL).
For one thing, the much-touted JSF has some inherent flaws, such as inadequate range, weapons payload and stealth capability. In addition, the Americans refuse to share the JSF source code with Israel. Israel would not be able to modify the platform to fit its needs, and would have to send damaged engines to Turkey or the U.S. for repairs.
According to the sources, some Israeli Cabinet members say the state-of-the-art version of the F-35 jet is outright "flawed." Israel could find itself "increasingly dependent" on a fighter-jet that has been rejected by most NATO air forces, the sources say.
Until the JSF reaches its full potential, a highly-placed source said, "we will have dozens of very expensive aircraft with limited capabilities."
Back in September 2008, the U.S. Defense Department approved the sale of 25 F-35 stealth-enabled Joint Strike Fighters to Israel's air force. The $15.2 billion deal included an option to buy 50 additional bombers in ensuing years.
Israel was particularly interested in the plane because of its short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. It was assumed that in war-time, Israeli bases and runways were liable to be heavily targeted by enemy missiles, rendering them all but unusable. The F-35B, with its ability to hover, land vertically, and take off vertically with a light load, would be invaluable under such circumstances. In addition, it needs only a few hundred feet of runway to take off when fully-loaded.
Even back then, however, manufacturer Lockheed-Martin faced claims that the jet performed poorly in tests and combat simulations. The company insisted that the JSF was the most advanced fighter of its class available.
Israel is currently expecting 33 F-35A jets, to arrive in two batches. The first aircraft are expected to arrive by 2017. Over 20 of them were supposed to have arrived last year, but the order was reduced to 14 by a government panel headed by Energy Minister Yuval Shteinitz. Seventeen F-35's are still on order for 2017, and the Israel Air Force continues to push for even more to arrive by 2020.
The Netanyahu government has urged Washington to sell Israel the advanced F-15 fighter-jet that has been approved for Saudi Arabia. But the Obama Administration has refused, presenting the JSF as the only platform available for Israeli purchase with the more than $3 billion a year it receives in American aid.
A second source quoted by MENL says the "overall feeling [among Cabinet members] is that Israel can't continue on this path and needs proven combat platforms." The sources added that Israel would end paying a "strategic price" for "procuring, operating, and training for 50 inadequate aircraft."