Israel sets sights on two-seater F-35

Washington DC
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The role of Israeli industry in the F-35 programme remains one of the last undecided pieces in Lockheed Martin's vast supply chain for the stealth fighter.

While the Israeli ministry of defence negotiates pricing on 25 requested F-35s, with options to purchase 50 more, Israeli companies each want to share in the presumed industrial benefits.

Israel Aerospace Industries, for example, foresees opportunities to participate in major upgrades and redesigns for the currently single-seat F-35 stealth fighter. IAI has even considered playing a role in the development of a two-seat variant.

"That's possible," an IAI executive says. "There is a known demand for two seats not only from Israel but from other air forces. Advanced aircraft are usually two seats rather than single seats."

All three variants of the F-35 are designed with a single seat. Programme officials have cited new advances in avionics and sensor fusion technology, which can allow a single pilot to perform missions that previously required two crew members.

The single-seat configuration also maximises commonality between the three variants. However, the programme has acknowledged plans for unspecified "follow-on development" work.

A recent US Navy analysis of F-35 cost estimates briefed internally on 4 January cited "upward pressure" posed by follow-on development work, as well as ship integration costs.

More immediately, Israeli industry wants a major role in the supply chain for the baseline aircraft, to include installing locally developed weapons and sensors on Israeli air force fighters.

The joint programme office has reportedly agreed to integrate the Rafael Python missile on the F-35. However, radars made by IAI's Elta Systems and Israeli-made electronic warfare equipment are still in debate.

Meanwhile, IAI plans to expand its aerostructures business, which already includes wings and horizontal stabilisers for F-15s and F-16s, with F-35 work, as well.

It also remains unclear how F-35s purchased by the Israeli air force will be maintained. Lockheed plans to consolidate European depot maintenance work in Italy. Israeli industry, however, believes that F-35 depot maintenance should be performed within national borders.

For its part, Lockheed so far is not explaining how much work it plans to offer Israel's industrial base.

"Lockheed Martin is developing an industrial participation plan for Israel industry in anticipation of Israel procuring the F-35," Lockheed says. "The plan will include work opportunities for Israel industry on the F-35 programme based on the programme's best-value tenet."