Jerusalem, Israel (CNSNews.com) – The F-35A Lightning II, a next generation American fighter jet with the most advanced capabilities in the world, is finally on its way to Israel, the first country outside of the U.S. to have them.
Israel’s new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman watched Wednesday as the first plane of an order of 33 rolled off the Lockheed Martin assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.
The first two planes, which cost about $110-120 million each, will be delivered in December, with the remainder coming through the end of 2019, according to a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin.
Israel has nicknamed the plane “Adir,” which means mighty or glorious in Hebrew.
The Israeli government is shouldering the cost of the jets under a special agreement with the U.S. They have the option to buy 17 more, though the agreement would ultimately allow them to have up to 75. Dedicated squadrons of fighter pilots are being formed to operate the planes.
The capabilities of the F-35, a fifth generation warplane, are so advanced that they can be operated deep in enemy territory without detection. For Israel, the dynamic nature of the F-35’s advanced, integrated software systems make it a formidable weapon against regional threats.
The aircraft combines advanced stealth capabilities with the speed and agility of a fighter aircraft. Essentially, it is the perfect weapon for hostile airspace that would normally be impossible to access. It also includes network-enabled operations, fully-fused sensor information, and advanced logistics and sustainment.
Lockheed Martin describes the F-35 as having “the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history.” In short, it’s a “smart” fighter jet with unmatched technical prowess and virtually undetectable by traditional radar systems.
For Israeli military experts, though, the F-35’s adaptability is among its most valuable assets. The Israeli military, renowned for its advanced high-tech expertise and capabilities, will add indigenous systems to the planes after they are delivered.
Yaakov Amidror, a senior security analyst with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel, points to the flexibility F-35 pilots will have to respond to circumstances in the field.
“There are many areas in the airplane that cannot be touched, but Israel will have some Israeli elements that won’t be in any other planes,” said Amidror. He added that if the sophisticated software works well, it will “change the capability of the plane and the pilot, which in the past relied on headquarters.”
“That kind of airplane will be much smarter,” he said.
Regional threats make such advanced warcraft a necessity. Amidror points out that the position of Israel in the Middle East means it is like the tip of the sword that protects against terrorism and helps to maintain some semblance of regional stability.
“Either we have the best or we are in danger,” he said.
As for specific threats – such as that posed by Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah – Amidror says the F-35 will be yet another step toward regional dominance.
“They [Hezbollah] should be afraid before we had it, and they should be afraid after we have it,” he said. Against Hezbollah or elsewhere, Israel plans to use the plane to its full capability.
“We hope it will help us to get to places around the world under the radar screen,” said Amidror.
At Wednesday’s launch ceremony in Texas, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Tal Kelman described his experience on the plane’s flight simulator in Fort Worth.
“It was like holding the future in my hands,” said Kelman, who has flown numerous aircraft over his 30-year career. “The unique combination of split-edge technology, lethality and the amazing man-machine interface will lead the world to the fifth generation."
An elite team of six IAF pilots who are F-15 and F-16 veterans are on the ground in the U.S. for training on the plane, including time in the flight simulator.
The U.S.-Israel defense relationship is among the most significant and important in the Middle East. Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met with Lieberman at the Pentagon in a typical show of what the Department of Defense described as an “unwavering commitment to Israel's security.”
The DOD said the Israeli F-35 aircraft “will play a key role in maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge in the Middle East.”