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STOVL F-35B for Israel?

March 10, 2008 (by Eric L. Palmer) - The F-35B Short-Take-Off and Vertical-Landing variant (STOVL) may be part of the Israeli Air Force future.

STOVL for the Israeli Air Force?

In an article by Defense News Israel may switch to STOVL JSF’s by Barbara Opall-Rome, it states that, “with the rapidly expanding missile threat from Gaza in the south, Lebanon in the north and - in worst-case future scenarios - from the West Bank hugging the Israeli heartland, runways could become vulnerable. As a result, the IAF may be compelled for the first time to operate in the type of improvised, austere environments envisioned for the STOVL variant of the JSF.”

What ever variant Israel decides on there are numerous other issues to get through to incorporate the F-35 into Israeli Air Force service. Top Israeli officials have addressed other concerns of F-35 requirements as follows.

One being that the F-35 for them doesn’t need to be “joint” to work with other air arms and in fact it is preferred that the aircraft is unique to their specific needs just like previous combat aircraft that have been put into service.

This means that unique Israeli-made precision guided air-to-ground weapons would have to be tailored for both internal and external carry on the aircraft . Home-grown air-to-air missiles like the Rafael Python 5 and follow-on variants would also have to be considered for F-35 use. Weapons fitting to use with this aircraft take on an extra fact that the STOVL F-35B variant can't hold as much weapon weight for internal carry vs. the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) F-35A.

Avionics: Israel has already stated a view that different kinds of software and even radar might be worked into their F-35s. It is agreed that all of these Israeli-specific modifications will be expensive.

Israel also has concerns about the aircrafts tactical use. Some of the issues already pointed out in an Aviation Week article: Israel wants JSF as soon as possible by David A. Fulghum, Robert Wall and Douglas Barrie back in December 2007 state that:

-Israel prefers two-crew aircraft for ground attack.
-That the tactical advantage of stealth may be compromised over the service life of the aircraft.

However, it was agreed that the F-35 has a place in the future Israeli combat aircraft plan.

A past briefing to Israeli journalists by Lockheed Martin shows the advantages of the variety of sensors that come stock with the aircraft. The same source also shows a procurement price for the conventional take-off and landing variant (CTOL) F-35A being about that of an F-16 and operation and sustainment costs for the F-35A about 20% less than an F-16.

As for cost to Israel for procurement of an F-35B STOVL, the Defense News article quotes John Smith, communications manager for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program as stating: "Average unit recurring flyaway costs for the CTOL aircraft is in the upper $40 million range, while the STOVL variant is in the mid-60s."

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