Israel is ready to buy two squadrons of F-35s early in the stealthy strike fighter’s production run. The country’s military planners say even that small initial number will provide a strong deterrent.
The desire to field them early will be reinforced by recent verification to Aviation Week & Space Technology by U.S. intelligence sources that Iraq is now awaiting delivery of SA-20 long-range air defense missiles. Syria already has the SA-22 short-range missile and the country is seen as the next buyer of the SA-20. Stealth will be a key component to attacking or avoiding these “double-digit SAMs”.
pic via ausapower.net
So far, so good. However, Israeli officials want their aircraft to have an EW system specially modified for Middle Eastern threats and developed by Israeli EW companies. US contractors don’t think that’s going to be an easy task.
Because the F-35 is so thoroughly integrated and networked, “It’s starting to look more like a node on the network than an airplane,” says Don Donovan, president for electronic warfare at BAE Systems. “So what does that make the international sales piece look like? It’s a much more complex [export] situation because [the JSF] is much more highly integrated. It’s difficult to understand how all the international parties are going to play [in the EW arena]. So the U.S. is going to have to balance the expectations of foreign customers with the realities what will be provided.”
Israeli companies, IAI-Elta in particular, anticipate either building an indigenous EW system for the F-35 or modifying what’s provided by the US. The standard model comes with a BAE Systems electronic surveillance measures (ESM) system, expendables, but no towed decoy or onboard active jammer - apart from the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which covers only the forward aspect and is limited to X-band.
“I see some hurdles with F-35 EW international sales,” Donovan says. “It’s just starting to show itself. [The BAE Systems’ package] is highly integrated with the platform, so we’re going to have to work out some accommodation. A model has been built over time. Until everyone fully understands how viable that model is, [any discussion of foreign input into the design] is just aspirational.”
While it is acknowledged that the Israelis have the full intention of developing their own EW system, U.S. researchers say it’s going to be a much more difficult job than it was on the F-16 because of the degree of integration.
“There’s a difference between modifying a new export aircraft and having specific indigenous capabilities integrated into an already established aircraft,” Donovan says. “I’d say these are uncharted waters. It’s not like the JSF enterprise is saying we understand all the hurdles we have to get over to make that possible. There isn’t that sort of roadmap yet.”