Despite criticism, Israel decided to exercise the option for another 17 aircraft. And there might also be some F-35Bs at the horizon to enable the Israeli Air Force to continue operating from dispersed locations in case of attack.
On Nov. 27, the Israeli Ministerial Committee for National Security, headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to purchase another 17 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft, bringing the total to 50 Lightning II jets.
The first two examples of the controversial, expensive, advanced 5th Generation aircraft, designated “Adir” (“Mighty One”) by the Israeli, are expected to be delivered to the Israeli Air Force (IAF), at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, in about three weeks.
The Israeli F-35s will have some components contributed by Israeli companies, including Israel Aerospace Industries that will produce the F-35’s outer wings, Elbit Systems-Cyclone, that will provide center fuselage composite components as well as Elbit Systems Ltd. that will provide Gen. III helmet-mounted display systems to be worn by all Lightning II pilots.
Although the extent of “domestic” modifications is still unknown, the IAF F-35As will be somehow different from the “standard” F-35s, as they will embed national EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc. This is the reason why Israeli F-35s are sometimes dubbed F-35I (for Israel), as if they were a different variant from the three baseline versions (A, B and C).
For sure, the new sales represents a good promotion for Lockheed Martin, considered the fame of the Israeli Air Force, known to be one of the most advanced and very well equipped: if the F-35s were deemed to be able to meet all the requirements of a service with a really strong reputation, that has been at war for decades and has employed its combat planes to perform some really complex operations (like the air strikes on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007), then they should be good for most of the world air forces (some of those continue to invest in the program.)
By the way, the news comes few days after Canada announced the plan to use F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multi-role fighters as “gap fillers” until Ottawa decides on a replacement for its fleet of legacy Hornet aircraft. In fact, after investing in the program for several decades, the new Trudeau Government canceled Canada’s planned purchase of the F-35 (considered too expensive) and announced a new, forthcoming open competition for a permanent CF-18 replacement.
Anyway, it seems that the IAF might end up operating F-35Bs as well.
Israel is a small country and its main airfields could be easily threatened by long-range weapons in the hands of state actors or handed over to militant movements like Hamas and Hezbollah: IAF’s only chance to continue operating in case of attack would be dispersing aircraft to remote locations, an option that would be viable only thanks to the unique F-35B STOVL capabilities.
The Persian Tomcats, that the IRIAF plans to fly until 2030, are based at TFB.8 (Tactical Fighter Base 8) Baba’i near Eshahan, in central Iran.
“TFB.8 has three F-14 Squadrons with total 62 F-14As but only almost half are airworthy at this moment; just 35 according to the 2013 records” says Iranian Defense Journalist and writer Babak Taghvaee.
“During this three days exercise six of the best F-14As of the 82nd and 83rd Tactical Fighter Squadrons participated. Why the best? Because IRIAF has two types of F-14As: PMC (Partially Mission-Capable) ones, usually suitable for Training and can become FMC in case of war. And Fully Mission-Capable Tomcats with fully operable fire control system, armament system and INS. These FMC F-14As are usually used for 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert and other combat missions (Usually 70% of the airworthy Tomcats are FMC).”
According to Taghvaee at least six of these FMC Tomcats, including an F-14AM, took part to the exercise and for first time in ten years pilots had chance to renew their AIM-9 and AIM-7 AAM launch skills.
“The F-14s were used in simulated HVACAP, BARCAP and CAP. Escorted F-4Es in first night of exercise. Then engaged with MiG-29s in morning of second day. And launched missiles today morning (Last and third day). They also escorted the Tanker airplanes.”
Iran has unveiled a new UCAV based on the captured American RQ-170 stealth drone.
On Oct. 1, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) unveiled a new combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called Saeqeh (Thunderbolt) during an expo showcasing the latest UAV projects of IRGC’s Aerospace Division.
Belonging to the Simorgh class, the new drone is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of carrying four precision-guided bombs, modeled on the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone captured in 2011.
Commenting on the latest achievements by the IRGC forces, Commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Division Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said that “today Iran has better aviation systems and equipment than the US and expressed hope that one day Iran will have the same might in the UAV industry as in the missile sector.”
So, it looks like the Iranians have not only copied the RQ-170, but they have also developed something new based on the captured “Beast of Kandahar” whose crash landing in Iran remains a mystery. A sensibly smaller drone that retains the same wing shape as the Sentinel but lacks the frontal air intake of the Lockheed Martin’s stealth drone.
Moreover it’s not clear where does the landing gear (if any) comes out from.
As widely reported on The Aviationist since 2011, there are various theories about it.
The Iranians say the RQ-170 was hijacked using Jamming and GPS spoofing attack tailored on known vulnerabilities of the UAV highlighted in Air Force official documents.
This Author still believes that the most likely theory is that the stealth drone, undetected by radar, crash landed in an uninhabited area in the Iranian desert for an unknown failure.
At the beginning, the U.S. decided not to disclose the news because the robot might have crashed in the mountains, where no one would ever find it, or have suffered extensive damage that would make it useless in the hands of the Iranian analysts. And, by giving the news, they would have admitted they had undertaken spy missions inside the Iranian airspace, thus confirming they had joined Israel in the covert war on the Iranian nuclear program.
However, a shepherd found it almost intact and the news spreads, forcing the U.S. to admit the loss. Iran was given a great, unexpected opportunity to show it to the world and to make some propaganda “advertising” some of their (existing) capabilities in the Electronic and Cyber Warfare fields.
Needless to say, this is just one of the many scenarios drawn since the drone’s first pictures appeared on Iran’s State TV depicting the “Beast of Kandahar” in a school’s gymnasium: a scenario that does not involve any jamming, GPS spoofing, satellite-link encryption breaking and control link spoofing. In fact, whilst Iranians have surely shown skills and know-how in these fields, some theories about taking over of a UAV by means of jamming and hacking *seem* to be a bit far-fetched in spite of known vulnerabilities affecting U.S. drones.
Anyway, in February 2013 Iran released footage that proved it has, if not literally decoded, at least accessed some of the data stored inside the U.S. stealthy RQ-170 drone captured in December 2011.
A video filmed by the Sentinel clearly showed footage recorded by the drone’s underbelly camera: the area surrounding Kandahar airfield (KAF) during landing; a small building (possibly being spied); a C-130 and at least one Reaper drone among shelters at KAF.
Hence, the drone’s internal memories still contained some useful information and were not fully automatically erased as a consequence of the loss of control procedure. To such an extent some data, including video recordings from the drone’s FLIR turret, was recovered.
On May 11, 2014 Iran unveiled a copy of the Sentinel UAV drone allegedly manufactured by reverse-engineering of the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 captured in December 2011. The Iranian version of the Sentinel drone was displayed next to the original one.
On Nov. 10, 2014, Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, announced that a domestic version of the RQ-170 drone, modified to carry out both bombing and reconnaissance missions, had made its maiden flight.
Operating from Engels and Modzok airbases in southwestern Russia, the aircraft had to cover a distance close to 3,000 km. According to some sources, the aircraft were thus supported by several Il-78M aerial refuelers on their way to the targets and back: actually, it’s not clear whether the Backfire could be refueled since the retractable probe in the upper part of the nose was reportedly removed as a result of the SALT negotiations, but it can be reinstated if needed.
Under the newly signed agreement with Iran, Russian bombers will be able to cut their flight time by 60%, saving money and increasing the ops tempo: the current distance to Syria is roughly 900 km, meaning that more bombs can be loaded in the round-trip mission from Iran.
Hmeymim airbase, near Latakia, that has been the headquarters of the Russian aircraft since October last year was unable to accommodate the large (34m wingspan) Russian supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic bombers.
The footage (click here) shows the submarine or a warship (the image above seems to be taken from a certain height from above the sea level…) somehow aiming or at least pointing its sensors at the American warship. According to the reports from the Iranian media, a drone took part in the surveillance operation as well, taking pictures of the American flattop from above.
In another video, you can see an IRGC drone flying close to the carrier (click here).
It’s not clear if and when the “close encounter” really happened nor the name of the “targeted” U.S. vessel; currently the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier is operating in the Persian Gulf supporting Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The incident occurred just a few days after ten U.S. sailors were abducted by Iran, following a technical malfunction that caused them to enter Iranian national waters near an island in the Gulf.
On Dec. 26, 2015 an Iranian vessel approached aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman while transiting the Strait of Hormuz and fired rockets in a direction away from the American flattop.
This is not the first time Iranian surveillance planes or even subs operate in the vicinity of an American aircraft carrier transiting across Hormuz. However, especially when sailing in troubled waters, all the aircraft carrier’s defenses (including surface to air missiles) are on heightened alert status and almost no suspect (manned or unmanned) aircraft approaching the ship goes unnoticed.
On the other side submarines can be a significant threat to the U.S. CSGs (Carrier Strike Groups).
During exercises and real ops, submarines regularly slip in the heart of the multi-billion-dollar aircraft carrier’s defensive screen to pretend-sinking U.S. supercarriers, whose underwater defenses are far from being impenetrable.