“It's a revolutionary plan,” Ya'alon says. “In a few years we will see a different IDF.”
Overall, the IAF will retire 1,000 career members of the military in the coming years. “The way it was conducted made us concerned about the amount of consideration given to that decision,” two veteran pilots of one of the squadrons told Aviation Week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A former IAF commander-in-chief, Maj. Gen. Ido Nachushtan, dismisses those claims: “Whenever you order the shutdown of an operational unit your hand is firm but your heart is always trembling,” he says. “I know that this decision was taken after careful consideration, taking all risks into account.”
The IAF's original plan was to decommission the aging F-16A/Bs when the first Joint Strike Fighters arrive in Israel, currently expected in 2017. Another F-16A/B squadron is still serving as an advanced jet trainer unit until Israel receives Aermacchi M-346 trainers in 2014. The Bell AH-1 Cobras were meant to retire within the next two years as well.
“So the decision was basically to advance the retirement of those aging platforms,” another former IAF commander, retired Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, says. “If these were the only cuts the air force will go through, I would say there is hardly any risk in it, but I am afraid we will see deeper cuts.”
“The capabilities of the modern platforms compensate for the decrease in the order of battle,” he adds. “A single F-16I can do in a single mission much more than several older F-16s could do together. The only resemblance between the aircraft is the name and general design.”
Moreover, the IAF's growing unmanned aerial vehicle fleet, consisting of Elbit's Hermes 450 and 900 and Israel Aerospace Industries' Heron 1 and 2, is taking over more and more missions traditionally conducted by manned aircraft.
But with Israel considering its air force as the most agile and versatile service—designed to deal with threats from neighboring Gaza and Lebanon all the way to distant Iran—it is the ground forces that will undergo the more dramatic reform.
Under the new plan, several armored brigades, including hundreds of aging M-60 and Merkava Mk 1 battle tanks, will be shut down in the coming months. An artillery brigade of M-109 howitzers will be retired along with a logistics brigade and an unspecified alignment of air defense. The Israeli navy will be forced to relinquish two missile boats out of its shrinking fleet of 11 surface vessels. And the army will lose 4,000 career service members.