F-35 production rate – can Israel wait?

The problem is simple to define but not to solve. If the Israeli air force (IAF) needed another cause for concern about the delivery dates of 20 Lockheed Martin F-35s, it came in the form of an interview with the Pentagon’s director of the F-35 programme, the US Navy’s Vice Adm David Venlet.

 

He urged a slowing in production of the stealth fighter because of cracks and “hot spots” that were detected during fatigue testing and analysis.

 

So, this was another wake-up call for an air force that needs modern, high-capability fighter aircraft yesterday, and not in 2018 or later.

 

So what happens now? The decision is not easy. The gap filler also has a high price tag attached to it. Can Israel divert the budget earmarked for the 20 F-35s?

 

The answer is positive, but this is not simple. It will require going to the US administration and saying: “We need aircraft sooner and we need to find a solution.” It is not an ordinary request but nothing in the Middle East or in the “threat zone” that affects Israel is ordinary.

 

Will the US administration understand? It may, but on the other hand it may reject any such request as a means of putting pressure on Israel.

 

In recent years Washington and Jerusalem have not seen eye to eye, and that may affect the response.

 

But for the Israeli air force, a negative response is not an alternative. To wait for the F-35 another five or even seven years is a nightmare.

 

The options are very limited – buying advanced versions of the F-15 or “jump” to a totally new generation, new “breed” of unmanned air systems (UAS). This is the dilemma now.

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