The Israeli F-35I “Adir” Declared Operational. So What’s Next?

An F-35I Adir flying over Israel shortly after delivery. (Image credit: IAF)

Little less than a year after the first two aircraft were delivered to Israel, the Israeli Air Force F-35s have achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Dec. 6, 2017, the Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 Lightning II jets, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, operational.

“The declaration of the squadron’s operational capability is occurring at a time in which the IAF is operating on a large scale in a number of fronts, in the constantly changing Middle East”, said Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Commander of the IAF in an official blog. “The operational challenge, which is becoming more and more complex each day, receives an excellent aerial response. The ‘Adir’ aircraft’s operational status adds a significant layer to the IAF’s capabilities at this time”.

The Israeli Air Force has so far received 9 aircraft that have been assigned to the 140 Sqn (“Golden Eagle”) at Nevatim airbase. The first two aircraft were delivered on Dec. 12, 2016. Five have been chosen for the assessment that has been conducted to declare the fleet IOC. As a side note, the status of the F-35 was grounded after suffering a birdstrike last month, sparking speculations that it might have been hit by the Syrian Air Defenses during a covert air strike, is unknown. Anyway, the Israeli F-35 is the first outside of the United States to be declared operational, preceded only by the U.S Marine Corps and U.S Air Force. The Italian Air Force, that has received 8 F-35s so far, has not declared IOC yet (at least officially).

“The inspection examined missions and scenarios that include all of the operational elements required to fly the ‘Adir’, from the ground to the air”, shared Lt. Col. Yotam, Commander of the 140th (“Golden Eagle”) Squadron, which operates the “Adir”. “I am confident in the division’s capability to reach operational preparedness and feel that the pressure is positive and healthy”.

What does IOC mean? Using U.S. Air Force lingo, it means that the IAF has enough operational aircraft, trained pilots, maintainers and support equipment to conduct operational missions using program of record weapons and missions systems. In simple words, it means the aricraft are capable of flying actual combat missions.

Throughout 2018, the “Golden Eagle” Squadron is expected to integrate six more fighters, while the next aircraft are scheduled to land in Israel early in the summer.

“We have yet to complete our acquaintance with the aircraft. We still have tests, development of combat doctrines and extensive learning before us”, concluded Lt. Col. Yotam in the official statement. “We haven’t stopped learning thinking and developing upon being declared operational. The establishment of the division doesn’t end with this inspection, it just begins. Will the ‘Adir’ participate in the next military campaign? I have no doubt. An aircraft like this brings capabilities to the IAF that it didn’t have before; it is an important strategic asset”.

An Israeli F-35A departs Nevatim. (Credit: IAF)

The IAF has always been enthusiastic and vocal about the fifth generation aircraft: “As the Middle East grows more and more unstable, and as groups that threaten to destroy us race to stockpile weapons, we need to stay a step ahead of the game. The F-35 gives us the edge we need to take on groups and armies with even the most advanced technology,” said the IDF in a blog that preceded the delivery of the new aircraft.

In a farewell interview with Haaretz, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, former IAF Commander said: “Not everything is perfect […] There are some things you only learn on your feet. This happens with every plane that we add. But when you take off in this jet from Nevatim [IAF base], you can’t believe it. When you ascend to around 5,000 feet, the entire Middle East is yours at the cockpit. It is unbelievable what you can see. The American pilots that come to us didn’t experience that because they fly there, in Arizona, in Florida. Here they suddenly see the Middle East as a fighting zone. The threats, the various players, are in short range as well as in long range. Only then do you grasp the tremendous potential this machine has. We already see it with our own eyes.”

“This jet brings us everything we’ve dreamed of doing, in one package,” said another senior air force source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor media outlet earlier this year. “It’s all concentrated on one table for us. As we all know, the F-35 can reach places in a way that others can’t. But in addition, it integrates high-level operational capabilities as well as the ability to read and analyze a battle map. The earlier, fourth-generation jets are excellent at maneuvering and activating sophisticated weapons systems, but they are not able to collect intelligence and independently analyze battle movement. The F-35 can do all this by itself in real time, with only one pilot sitting in the cockpit. We have never had such an operational capability until today. Until now, attack aircraft were operated independently of air support aircraft. The former waited to receive analysis of the battle picture that came from the latter. But in the F-35, everything is on the same platform, and this is no less than amazing. When you connect that to several aircraft, you receive strategic capability for the State of Israel.”

Indeed, what makes the F-35 one of the world’s most advanced aircraft is its high-end electronic intelligence gathering sensors combined with advanced sensor fusion capabilities to create a single integrated picture of the battlefield. However, electronic intelligence capabilities similar to those that the Israeli aircraft can put in place to get a pretty detailed view of the Middle East, can be used by neighbouring nations to spy on their fifth generation jet.

According to the same sources who talked to Al-Monitor, the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

An Israeli “Adir” flies alongside a “Sufa”

Although it was just declared operational, it will take a few years to “completely” understand and exploit the stealth jet’s capabilities. Even more so, considered that the Israeli F-35s will have some domestic modifications and components provided by Israeli companies, that the IAF has not even begun the process of installing and integrating on the jet. Indeed, the IAF F-35As will be different from the “standard” F-35s, as they will employ national EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).

As we have already reported, IAF may also purchase some F-35Bs, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, that would allow the Israeli to have a squadron or two of multirole aircraft able to take off and land from austere/dispersed landing strips should Iran be able to wipe out IAF airbases with precision weapons.

So, Israel’s “journey” with the F-35 jet has just begun.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

11 Comments

  1. The F-35 has various passive sensors that allow it to remain ‘cloaked’ while it prepares to destroy its enemies. Firing a missile, dropping a bomb and other such activity does ‘uncloak’ the aircraft but it regains its stealth in a new location within seconds.

    You’re correct that every weapon can have a counter; some are more worthless than others but what they all share in common is high cost. It is much better to have stealth that might be defeated to having all your planes exposed for the whole world to see.

  2. And Ben Franklin discovered electricity, but it took Edison to make the light bulb. The complex manufacturing processes needed to build stealth fighters in numbers, in particular the RAM, is beyond Russian mass-manufacturing capabilities. If they had any industry worth a damn we’d all have a chance to buy a Russia-made car. But we don’t. They can’t even make a decent automobile, much less a true 5th gen stealth fighter.

    • Till now we know not much about sustained turn rate of su-57: it is an high level wings design, higher then su-35, and this is not a good configuration for getting instable/ agile fighter in sustained turn rate. So Russian cannot really make neither unstable fighters, such as was the prototype mig1.44 and Eurocanards. Sorry guys but eurocanards are aerodinamically even more advanced then f22. Chinese stealth fighter has canards indeed to mitigate elevaate stability/low agility of it very high level wings design. Instantaneous turn rate and continous turn rate are very different aspect of flight, with the second beeing much more useful with modern bvr missiles

      • It takes about 3 seconds for a Su-57/Su-35C to do a 360 turn. With full 3D thrust vectoring you don’t turn, you rotate like a helicopter. Full 3D tv allows to rewrite the BVR and WVR air combat books, especially with eye-cueing missiles and VTOL capable thrust loadings. Facing a well designed tv3D opponent, the best way for a classic fighter to win a dogfight will be to avoid it. That’s why there is so much emphasis in BVR.

        Sorry to disappoint you but canards have been around since the Wright Brothers. Even before. And the Mirage 2000 (AFAIK) made
        static instability and artificial stability the “sine qua non” of modern fighter design, Russian included. High-wing fighters are not necessarily losers, think of the F-15, F-8 Crusader, A-5 Vigilante, Mirage F-1, MiG-23/27, MiG-25/31, Saab J-29, Folland Gnat, Chinese J-?, etc. The criteria is mainly structural not aerodynamic.

        But correct or otherwise, you are doing the right thing. You are being analytical, something that I and others shall imitate.

    • That’s why I said that USAF was the mother and Ben Rich the midwife. Still, without Ben Franklin there would not have been light bulbs nor the keyboard you use to spread Russophobia.

      Since the US tried but could not copy the RD-180 due to the inability to master key technologies, one could arrive at the opposite conclusion. But it will be wrong. The US is capable of doing wonderful things. If Russia were as inept as you claim, the US would not have forced its main allies to cut the trade of any meaningful technologies with that country.
      Why would The US/EU fear Bangladesh industry? (With all due respect for the Bangladesh people)

      The point is that you have stealth technology thanks to Soviet science. And Russians don’t have it thanks to Soviet bureaucratic inertia. Not for nothing the CIA recruited the father of stealth legally. Give credit to merit.

      Does anybody really, really believe that today’s stealth will be effective till 2030? The father of the stealth idea gave the Russians the anti-stealth idea. Not easy, but astonishingly logical and feasible. And that is why the Russians do not care much about all-aspect stealth.

      Never look down the nose to that people. Haughty arrogance and stupidity are close siblings. Avoid both.

    • That’s why I said that it took the USAF and Ben Rich to materialize the idea. But, had it not been for Ben Franklin, the light bulb would not have been invented, nor the keyboard you are using to spread hatred.

      That the US could not master a key Russian technology when it tried to license build the RD-180 rocket engine, does not mean that the US is technologically behind Russia. And if the Russian industry is so backward as you claim, why did the US/EU cut the trade of technological equipment with a nation that cannot make decent cars?; equipment that they would sell easily to Somalia or South Sudan.

      The bottom line is that you have stealth because of the Soviet science, and the Russians don’t have it because of the Soviet legendary, bureaucratic, crippling inertia.

      Always give credit to merit. That’s all.

      • your wrong,all the Russian Petr Ufimtsev wrote is the basic idea of how stealth might work.it was a theoretical paper ,never the less, his theory was the catalyst for the development of the f 117

  3. All that and not one mention of Bi-Static radar?

    You know it was the original configuration used in developing radar pre-WW2?

  4. A low frequency radar cannot really detect which type of aircraft is getting signal from. Old Tornado IDV mechanical could instead detect and identify every batch of su-27-su 30 figthers depending on signal of their gigantic air intake jet blades.

    • According to what source?

      NCTR has been around for decades and is used on the F-15’s, etc., also.

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