Study this image: meet the F-35I Adir (the elite stealth fighter America doesn’t have)
Israel wanted the F-22 Raptor, but America wouldn’t allow the technology to be exported. The good news is that the F-35 was available and Israel was allowed to customize the plane to its own specifications for the war in the still unstable Middle East: the result was the F-35I Adir, an aircraft that even the US Air Force is probably jealous of: Where possible, the State of Israel has attempted to rely on local weapon systems to defend against his many adversaries In the region. These local weapons have included everything from basic infantry combat weapons like the Galil Assault Rifle and Uzi submachine gun to main battle tanks such as the Merkava to ballistic missile defense systems such as an iron dome.
However, one category of weapons in which Israel still relies primarily on foreign imports is fighter jets.
Yes, Israel Aircraft Industries did produce Kfir in the 1970s, but they were phased out of active service in the second half of the 1990s. At present, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) still relies on F-15 Eagles and American-made 4th generation F-16 Fighting Falcon as mainstays for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
Naturally, not wanting to fall behind in the 5th generation fighting game, Israel is now turning to stealth capabilities in the form of the F-35I variant of the highly controversial Lockheed Martin Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Shalom-Shalom to Stealth F-35I Adir
As our dear readers are well aware, Lockheed Martin’s Lightning II is, if you’ll forgive me for yet another of my bad puns, a lightning rod for controversyin terms of mechanical growing pains and excessive costs.
For one, the F-35 costs $44,000 per hour to fly, compared to about $20,000 per hour to fly for the F-15EX. Over a lifetime, this represents a total program cost (including R&D) of $1.5 trillion. As ExtremeTech journalist Jessica Hall calls it bluntly “A mystery, inside an enigma, wrapped in a shit show”.
But while Ms Hall may say “sh*t show”, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) always say “Shalom-Shalom(how’s that for counter-alliteration) to the controversial warbird. The Israeli army is obviously undeterred and still willing and able to shell out a lot of money – or super Shekels if you prefer – for stealth aircraft, which they renamed Adır (“Powerful”).
The looming specter of Iran is a major motivating factor. Indeed, Israel is so far the only nation to have effectively used the F-35 in combat, and in both cases it was against Iranian targets. First, in May 2018, the IAF IAF used the jets to strike Iranian missile launch sites in Syria. As Alouf (Major General) Amikam Norkinthen Commander of the IAF, publicly stated:
“We fly the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts.” He did not specify the targets. You know we just won Eurovision with the song “Toy”. Well, the F-35 is not a toy,”
Then the IAF became the first to use the Lightning II in air-to-air combat, but not against manned enemy aircraft. It was March 2021, when Israeli fighter pilots from the 116th and 140th squadrons used their Adırher shoot down two Iranian drones that threatened to encroach on Israeli territory.
L’Chaim to the F-35I Adir
So why do IAF F-35I Adir pilots seem to perform better than their American counterparts?
My 19fortyfive our colleague Maya Carlin – one of our resident experts on the IDF – helps shed some light on the matter, noting that Israel is “the only nation on Earth with a customized version” of the American-built warplane, and specifies:
“Lockheed-Martin refused to undergo customer-state-specific major modifications to the F-35. Israel was able to maneuver around this barrier and involve its local defense contractors in procuring the jets. This agreement allowed the manufacture in Israel of sets of sophisticated helmets and wings by its own defense industry, paid for with American military aid.…The F-35I variant can be externally modified by the Israeli Air Force (IAF), which also has access to the jet’s advanced digital architecture, including its communications systems, electronic warfare suite and surveillance, and its mission control equipment. The Israeli-made “Mighty One” hardware includes an electronic warfare system with “plug-and-play” functionality for add-on systems such as air-to-air missiles and external electronic warfare modules..”
In addition, Israel is trying to become the only F-35 customer to develop external drop tanks that would allow fighter jets to accomplish long-range missions without having to resort to in-flight refueling. The force-multiplying effect of external drop tanks was first and most clearly demonstrated during World War II, when such attachments enabled the legendary P-51D Mustang fighters to escort the equally legendary B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers deep in the heart. of Germany and protect the “heavy” from the ravages of Luftwaffe fighters.
Time will tell if (A) the US Air Force will be able to solve its own F-35 problems and match Israeli bragging rights with the F-35 in real combat and/or (B) the IAF will have to take their performance of the “Mighty Ones” against Iran to the next level, i.e. full-scale shooting war. Mazel Tov.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments in Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany and the Pentagon). Chris holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an MA in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from the American Military University (AMU). It was also published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cybersecurity. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of United States Naval Order (WE).