F-35 for Israel – whispers of doubt grow louder

What until some months ago were only whispers, have become loud words of scepticism.

Reports about more delays in the F-35 programme and about the growing costs have brought about the change and key people in the Israeli defence establishment are expressing their thoughts openly.

With delivery dates pushed to 2018, growing costs and reports about limited capabilities, the question marks have become bigger.

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

Some of those talking about a “big problem” are asking the very simple question, “Does Israel need a stealth fighter with a $137 million price tag attached to its wings?”. Many experts say “no’.

They say the current fleet of fighters and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operated by the Israeli air force (IAF) can, with the right electronic warfare systems, achieve the same element of surprise.

“To blind the enemy sensors is a mission that can be performed with a less expensive and complicated platform,” one of them told me. Hearing that from a man who “breathes” sensors 24 hours a day, you are left with a big, annoying question mark.

The opposition gets some tail wind from experts in the US and other places who claim the stealth characteristics of the F-35 will be very limited, especially in the specific scenarios the IAF is about to operate.

Will the IAF get automatic approval to buy additional aircraft? Some experts say that once a first squadron is operational, the need for a second one is obvious. They may be right, but many questions will have to be answered before almost all the foreign military financing for the US is again earmarked for that purpose.

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