Israel is the first, and only nation to receive stealth aircraft from the USA
Israel is going to buy a couple of squadrons worth of F-35s eventually, but the total number could be well short of what was originally planned.
With a cash-strapped defense budget, the possibility of buying more than two dozen of the stealthy strike aircraft has triggered a debate over cost and Israel’s continuing long-term reassessment of what constitutes victory and military success.
Advocates stress deterrent effect and conventional warfare. Detractors point to high cost and the likelihood that foreseeable conflicts will be fights against guerrillas, insurgents and terrorists.
Critics contend that the money, estimated at about $2.75 billion
for the first 19 aircraft
, could be better spent on upgrading conventional, non-stealthy aircraft with long-range, high-speed stealthy weapons and sensors with the range to support such attacks. The frugal faction believes that attack helicopters and intelligence gathering aircraft should be developed with a similar formula – existing airframes and advanced sensors.
“The [shrinking] force structure problem points us toward fewer, but more sophisticated platforms,” says Air Force Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, former chief of the Israel Defense Force. “The F-35 fits this trend exactly. It will allow us to cope with a shrinking budget and force size. It also could permit development of an operationally useful combination of stealthy and non-stealthy aircraft. They could pave the way for conventional aircraft in extreme operational situations.
“We should be using single aircraft or two-ship formations instead of the standard four-ship,” Halutz says. “We have to think of ways to change some structural habits and traditions that will make better use of equipment because it is more costly, and we can’t afford to stay with the old concepts.”
The price tag of the F-35 is a major point of contention.
“The cost is huge and there are other needs,” says Army Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland who is a former head of the national security council of Israel and the current chairman of a committee investigating the flotilla incident off the coast of Gaza. “If we continue to use the very advanced [versions of the] F-16 and F-15 and upgrade some of the systems, we could save so much money that we could buy other important systems like ground-based missiles. And you can use more [air-launched] standoff weapons because they have extreme precision and a very long effective range. You don’t have to put all your effort into the aircraft.”