Israel is trying to get to the front of queue for the new U.S. F-35A
fighter-bomber. Although it costs about twice as much as a high-end F-16, the
Israelis believe it's worth the price. The F-35A matches the F-16 in terms of
maneuverability, outperforms it in terms of stealthiness, payload, range,
supportability, survivability and overall operational effectiveness.
But many air force generals around the world see
the F-16 as a better deal. That may well be, depending on who your likely
opponents are. But if you live in a rough neighborhood, the extra cost of the
F-35A appears a prudent investment. Nevertheless, over 4,000 F-16s have been
sold, and it is still being built. But the F-35 is shaping up to be a big
seller as well, and is seen as the successor to the F-16 in the 21st century.
Israel also operates one of the most capable
versions of the F-16 (the F16I). These began arriving three years ago. More are
on order, and Israel will upgrade 125 of its F-16C and D models to the I standard. The F-16I is a 24 ton, two seat
fighter-bomber, and is probably the most capable F-16 model in service. It's
basically a modified version of the F-16C/D Block 50/52, equipped with a more
advanced radar (the APG-68(X)) and the ability to carry Israeli weapons like
the Python 4 air-to-air missile and the Popeye 2 air-to-surface missile. Costing $45 million each, the F-16I has an
excellent navigation system, which allows it to fly on the deck (a few hundred
feet from the ground), without working the pilot to death. The aircraft can do
this at night or in any weather. The F-16I can carry enough fuel to hit targets
1,600 kilometers away (meaning Iran is within range). The aircraft uses the
latest short and long range air-to-air missiles, as well as smart bombs.
Electronic countermeasures are carried, as is a powerful computer system, which
records the details of each sortie in great detail. This is a big help for
training. The F-16I is basically optimized to deliver smart bombs anywhere,
despite dense air defenses. This further increases Israels military power
versus its neighbors. Israel has been
receiving two new F-16I fighter-bombers a month since early 2004,
and will eventually receive 102 of
them. Added to this will be another 125,
as older F-16s are upgraded. This will take three or four years, at least.
Israel is planning on obtaining a hundred of the 27
ton F-35As, with the first ones arriving in 2012. Israel wants to equip its F35s with some
Israeli electronics and weapons, and that deal is still being worked out.