By Arie Egozi on September 21, 2021 at 4:45 AM
TEL AVIV: Israel’s air force has asked the US to allow greater access to the core avionics of the F-35 joint strike fighters, with the goal of installing new Israeli-developed systems onto the stealth fighter, according to a top Israeli officer.
“The effort is to find the right balance between the US restrictions and the Israeli operational demands,” Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan, Israeli Air Force Chief of the Air Staff and the number two officer for the IAF, said in an exclusive interview with Breaking Defense.
Barkan, who is in charge of building the future capabilities of the IAF, said that a special F-35 test aircraft has been used extensively to test more Israeli made systems on the stealth jet.
While he would not go into details about what Israeli-made technologies the IAF would want to add to the F-35, sources here say they include a new electronic warfare system, a new communication system that will allow a two-way flow of real time data, and the addition of highly-classified weapon systems to be loaded into the weapons bay when operating stealthily.
Israel has a program of record for 50 of the conventional take-off and landing F-35A models. Israeli officials have started that its F-35 fleet has been used in different combat operations in “close and far away arenas,” and the country is known for being more willing to use the jets in combat situations than some other F-35 operators.
Asked to respond to Barkan comments, Brandi Schiff, a spokesperson for the F-35 joint program office, said “The F-35 JPO will continue to meet all of Israeli sovereign requirements within the United States Government’s security and release policy, and will strive to balance U.S. restrictions with Israel’s requests.”
Israel is also in discussions with the US about procuring a new tranche of advanced F-15s, with the request having been carried to the White House during Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s August visit to Washington. Asked why Israel needs more F-15s given its large F-35 buy, Barkan noted the F-15s ability to serve as more of a weapons truck compliments the F-35, and that the “special connectivity systems we use” allows the two jets to operate “together very closely.”
During the interview, Barkan also raised concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program, and gave insight into what a joint Israeli-US response might look like.
“Recent joint ballistic missiles defense exercises of the US and Israeli air forces may, under certain circumstances, become an operational reality part of the regional plan to defend Israel from ballistic threats,” he said. “The US and Israel are further strengthening their ballistic missile defense capability.”
Barkan says a recent joint exercise between the two countries played out how quickly the US could respond if an Iranian ballistic missile was launched at Israel and intercepted by the country’s missile defenses. In that scenario, it would take roughly 24 hours before the US would land C-17s at Israeli military bases and offload defensive systems — likely to include the THAAD missile defense system, first deployed in Israel in 2019 as part of a joint exercise — and prepare for a potential counter-attack.
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