The development of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter has been the subject of widespread criticism over performance issues, but the Israeli Air Force has already made extensive preparations to welcome the next-generation aircraft, which will be known as the Adir.
On June 22, the first Israel-bound F-35 will be christened at the Lockheed Martin plant at Fort Worth, Texas.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon will lead the Israeli delegation at that ceremony, which will include senior Israeli officers and Defense Ministry officials.
After the first two F-35 aircraft arrive in Israel on Dec. 12, they will get new made-in-Israel C4 systems (C4 stands for Command, Control, Communications, Computers). This step is designed to meet the Defense Ministry requirement that all Israeli aircraft have unique electronic systems. The Israeli systems are tailor-made for the IAF's requirements, giving it a technological edge and the element of surprise.
Aside from the two that will arrive in December, six Adirs are expected to arrive through 2017. The Nevatim Airbase in the Negev Desert will serve as the home for the first Adir squadron. The Defense Ministry ordered 33 Adirs from Lockheed Martin, their manufacturer, at a total cost of about $5.5 billion. The funding comes from the American military aid to Israel.
Several Israeli companies have taken part in the development of the plane, and the parts they manufacture will go to other aircraft recipients as well. Elbit Systems is in charge of developing the pilot helmet for the entire F-35 fleet. It is considered to be the most advanced helmet of its kind. The Israel Aerospace Industries will manufacture more than 800 pairs of F-35 wings.
Last month, the Israel Defense magazine and the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies hosted a conference called "IAF Challenges and the Arrival of the F-35 Fighter."
IAF Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Tal Kelman told conference participants: "The F-35 Adir is not merely an aircraft, but represents a new operational concept, and strengthens the qualitative advantage of the IAF compared to other air forces in the area. With the Adir, the air force is stronger than ever.
"In the past, the IAF absorbed platforms and adapted them to the air force. Today, we must adjust ourselves to the new platform, the Adir. Therefore, changes have been made in the air force staff, in the equipment group [the air force body that manages weapon systems] and, of course, in the Adir squadron at the Nevatim air force base, which is built differently than other squadrons."
The F-35 is the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history. The project has been plagued by delays and glitches, leading to widespread criticism, with costs reaching an estimated $400 billion. In a Pentagon report two months ago, Operational Test and Evaluation Director J. Michael Gilmore said the aircraft had at least 928 shortcomings, some critical. According to the report, the Autonomic Logistics Information System -- the software that serves as the plane's highly sophisticated "brain" -- was unstable, the plane's radar failed mid-flight, and its gun is not operational yet.
There were other glitches as well, but the Israeli Air Force is not overly concerned. Kelman said the "various problems are a result of the aircraft still being developed, but they are being addressed." At the conference last month, former Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu said, "If one day we will have to operate thousands of kilometers from home, this will be our only means to do so."