F-35s, delivery dates and filling the gap – the dilemma

Fluctuation is the most stable situation in the Middle East. This is proved again and again along a time axis.

 

The most recent proof is the talk about a “gap filler” that will enable the Israeli air force (IAF) to keep its full operational capability if the purchased Lockheed Martin F-35s land at an IAF base in 2016 or even 2017.

 

The delays in the F-35 programme were not fully taken into account when the Israeli government approved the $2.75bn for 20 F-35s.

 

But as time passes, questions are being launched into the air, in most cases by “sources” that do not want to be identified.

 

These sources say that there is no way of knowing what the operational need will be in 2016 or later, when the deliveries of the F-35s will hopefully begin.

 

Does Israel need a stealth fighter with a $137m price tag attached to its wings? The answer, according to many experts, is negative. They say that the current fleet of fighters operated by the IAF can, with the right EW systems, achieve the same element of surprise. But that was the mantra when the delivery dates were assessed at 2015.

 

Each time the dates are pushed into the more distant future, other voices are heard.

These say that the IAF will need a gap filler in the shape of an aircraft like the upgraded F-15 or in the shape of very capable unmanned air systems (UAS).

 

With long-endurance, heavy UAS such as the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron-TP, and probably others still hidden behind curtains of secrecy, this option is based on existing hardware.

 

The unprecedented pressures on the Israeli defence budget amplify these voices.

But in a region in which things change in the velocity of advanced fighter jets, what seems logical today may seem the most stupid thing tomorrow.

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