Could Israeli F-35s turn the tables on Iranian S-300 missiles?

Over the long years of its development, the F-35 fighter jet has been pummeled from every angle. What haven’t we heard: It’s overweight and underpowered; it’s a single engine when it should be a twin; its engine may suffer from a serious design and structural problem; its wings are too short, its stealth capacity too tenuous, its cost too prohibitive.

But as Russia seeks to increase its influence in the region, shopping around its cutting edge air-defense weaponry — notably including the S-300 missile-defense system, which President Vladimir Putin has promised to deliver to Iran in the wake of the nuclear framework agreement reached earlier this month — the Israeli Air Force is flying to the F-35’s defense. In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, conducted prior to the Russian announcement, the IAF’s point man for the acquisition and integration of the F-35, who has been immersed in the project since 2005, robustly backed the purchase and put it into historical perspective, noting that every leap forward has faced a near wall of opposition at the onset.

In Israel, much of the criticism has revolved around the cost of the US-made jet and the erosion of indigenous know-how. Former defense minister Moshe Arens, an aeronautical engineer by training and one of the program’s most vocal castigators, told The Times of Israel in October that while the F-35 might be “nice to have,” he didn’t see any need for it considering the country’s budgetary constraints. He noted that the military was still operating Vietnam War-era armored personnel carriers — to fatal effect this past summer in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood this past summer — and said Israel would do better upgrading its existing F-15 and F-16 planes and investing the surplus funds in the ground forces.

It is, however, too late for that now. The central question today – and one that will loom large as Israel assembles a new government and authorizes the army’s five-year spending plan, which has been kicked down the road for two years running and hinders the IDF’s ability to plan into the future — is quantity.

Lt. Col. B, the IAF point man for the F-35, has heard all of this and more. In a box of an office, speaking over a rattling air conditioning system, he unwaveringly laid out his historical case for the F-35, asserting to The Times of Israel that Israel’s qualitative advantage in the air is on the wane and that prudence requires that the IAF know when the time is over for improvements and upgrades and the need for a technological leap forward, or “a new generation,” has come.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have top-notch, Western-supplied air forces, he said. The former has a peace treaty with Israel. The latter has interests that have aligned – against Iran and radical Sunni Islam – with the Jewish state. And yet, when buying a new fleet of aircraft – Israel’s doctrine calls for roughly 100 new fighter planes every decade – the country has to look far into the future, into the unknown. Both those countries could fall into Islamist hands. Moreover, Iran and Syria, enemy states, have received advanced Russian air-defense systems and will likely get offensive ones too, perhaps including the Sukhoi Su-50ES fighter plane, which, if military import sanctions are removed, is slated for Iran in 2022.

In other words the need to “leap forward” to a fifth-generation fighter plane is demonstrable, Lt. Col. B said.

There’s no other way,” he said, “because there’s nothing else out there.

Full article: Could Israeli F-35s turn the tables on Iranian S-300 missiles? (The Times of Israel)

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