November 14, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The first in a fleet of the most advanced F-16s will soon be sent to Israel. Israeli officials said they were pleased with the completion of the first F-16I Soufa, which means "storm" in Hebrew, a more sophisticated version of the F-16.
The F-16I has more space for weapons and a removable fuel tanks to hold extra fuel. Its radar has five times the processing speed and 10 times more memory than previous F-16s, and it has a more advanced navigation system.
"Today we are unveiling the world's most sophisticated fighter jet and are placing it in the experienced hands of our pilots," Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, Israel
's defense minister, said Friday in a ceremony at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant. "We are doing so in hope and prayer that all the advanced features of this wondrous aircraft will never face the test of battle."
Israel ordered 102 jets in a $2.7 billion contract in 1999, and the recent completion of the first one was a month or two behind schedule, officials said. With a total of 362 F-16s, Israel will now have the second largest fleet in the world behind the United States.
The F-16Is will form the "backbone" of the military's airplane fleet and will replace the A-4s and F-4s. These new "I" models will also give added punch to the long-range capabilities of the IAF and complement the squadron of F-15Is Israel received in the end of the1990s.
The range ability has been increased dramatically. It has an 820-km non-refueling radius of operation and allows them to reach any place in the Middle East.
Some Israeli officials sat briefly in the jet's cockpit after the ceremony Friday. It is to be flown to Israel early next year.
Lockheed Martin will continue production at a rate of about 1.5 planes per month, and will send a few jets to Israel several times a year until 2008.
The most recent contract for fighter jets was the fifth between Israel and Lockheed Martin in the past 25 years, said Orville Prins, the company's vice president of business development. Israel is Lockheed's second-largest customer, behind the U.S. military.
See also the forum topic: F-16I Revealed!