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  • Israel, Deterrence and the F-35
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 1:55 PM on Aug 16, 2010

    Israel's announcement of a forthcoming decision to acquire 20 F-35As, for delivery between 2015 and 2017, happened to come the week after the big Strategic Command symposium on deterrence in Omaha. One of the speakers was Avi Schnurr, executive director of the Israel Missile Defense Association, and what he said is, I think, relevant in understanding what Israel might do with a 20-strong F-35 force.

    Schnurr pointed out that Israel's deterrent philosophy is, first of all, based on the principle of "denying benefit" - that is, putting the adversary in a position where he is not confident that his attack will work:  hence, the huge US-Israeli investment in ballistic missile defense (BMD).

    But, Schnurr adds, it is denying benefit "with a twist. It's not a win/loss calculation. It's the case of an ideologically driven enemy whose aim is to credibly project a vision of victory and intimidate other powers in the region."

    As a result, Israel sees the need to ensure that missile attacks visibly fail, and Schurr points out that there are three elements to missile defense:  active BMD, passive defense and attack. "The combination of all three is very powerful", he told the Omaha meeting.

    Passive defense, by the way, goes beyond shelters:  Israel is hardening its infrastructure against electromagnetic pulse and similar threats and developing recovery plans.

    Attacking adversary missile systems on the ground, meanwhile, "suppresses the launch rate and makes active defenses more effective." Schnurr says that the IDF learned a lot about counter-missile operations very quickly in the 2006 Lebanon war - and points out that the ideological opponent outlined above does not want to suffer a visible defeat.

    While I have taken issue with Lockheed Martin's claims that the JSF does everything better than any other fighter for less money, even its critics and competitors concede that it should do a competent job of doing what its biggest customer wanted:  a sort of Super F-117, with the addition of adverse-weather and moving-target sensors, and  the situational awareness and self-defense capability to survive in daylight.

    Moreover, if your goal was to use a small force of F-35Is as a counter-missile sniper force, there are a lot of things you could do to improve it, with greater or lesser difficulty. If you were willing to trade sortie rates and maintenance times for stealth (as was done on the F-117 and B-2) you could apply more external coatings. If your mission does not require supersonic speed you could even change the engine nozzle. You could also provide outside support in the form of stand-in jamming from UAVs.

    It's even conceivable - since Rafael is thinking in that direction - that a customized F-35 could pack its own active missile defense system, and its DAS would be quite useful in targeting something of that kind.

    That capability faces an adversary, particularly one trying to deploy nuclear missiles or other weapons of mass destruction, into a defensive posture. The missiles either have to be bunkered and vulnerable to a hard-target weapon attack, or mobile, which makes them hard to find, but also hard to defend and easy to kill. In either case they are susceptible to non-nuclear attack.

    If I'm remotely right about this, I would expect that the first batch of F-35Is would, upon delivery, disappear into a black hole of secrecy and never be seen in public.

    Tags: ar99, jsf, israel, iran

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