January 3, 2017 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Israeli air force officially retired its F-16A/B "Netz" fleet, concluding the plane's 36 years of operational service with the branch. About 90 Netz (Hawk) aircraft were withdrawn from service during a ceremony at Israel's Ouvda AFB.
IDFAF F-16B block 5 (original) #986 came to Israel in 1994. It was never used by the IDFAF and in 2001 turned to be a test bird for the ACE program in which it received code 4X-ACE and serial #313 equiped with the IAI EL/M-2032 radar and some other new electronics. No contract was ever signed. [IDFAF photo]
The event was marked by high praise for the plane's combat capabilities, including its performance during several of Israel
's most notable armed conflicts.
Israeli Air Force pilots used the Netz during a variety of combat missions supporting 1996's Operation "Grapes of Wrath", the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and more recently Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In total, the aircraft has conducted 474,000 sorties and accumulated 335,000 flight hours.
The first four Netz made by General Dynamics arrived at Ramat David AFB
in Israel in July 1980 after an 11 hour delivery flight. IOC was achieved a few weeks later. Although the last 22 of these aircraft were put on hold by the Reagan Administration following the Raid on the Osirak reactor, final deliveries took place in 1981.
A total 75 of these jets were ordered by Israel in 1978 under the Peace Marble I program. They originally procured the type more as a response to the high cost of the F-15 Eagle than anything else. These jets were soon pressed into combat though. On April 28th, 1981, an IAF Netz fighter shot down a Syrian helicopter with its cannon, marking the first air-to-air victory for the F-16. Other Syrian aircraft quickly followed, and the F-16’s reputation for being vicious air-to-air fighter was quickly cemented.
With a massive aid package from the US going into effect, F-35’s beginning to arrive, upgrades on newer fighters underway, and with the F-15 fleet of all generations still going strong, Haaretz reports that Israel is putting some of its flyable F-16A/Bs up for sale, along with other surplus hardware.
However, upgraded C and D variants of the fighter will still play an important part in the IAF’s fighting fleet, even as the latest F-35I Joint Strike Fighters are delivered to the service. The F-16 C/D is expected to serve until at least 2020.
Announced improvement for the “Barak 2020” F-16 C/Ds include command and control upgrades to match the systems in the newer F-16I Soufas, replacement of the screens in the cockpit with more advanced color displays and HUDs, and other undisclosed upgrades. A follow-on program is expected to add improved flight control systems, high resolution displays, and Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display.
“Israel's Defense Ministry has announced that it will try to sell the aircraft to foreign forces. Specifically, the ministry’s Defense Aid Branch has advertised that 40 such planes are up for sale. Israel is also selling another seven Hercules C-130 planes
, seven Hawk fighter-interceptor systems, 40 Skyhawk Eagles and eight Cobra helicopters,” Haaretz reported Tuesday.
, an ever-closer military ally of Israel, is one of the possible customers for the F-16A/B fighters. They have bought second-hand European F-16s for years, and Israel would likely cut them a very good deal, even providing upgrades to the jets to make them more relevant to today’s battlefield.
It is also possible that a private adversary support contractor could make a play at these surplus F-16s.