Israeli F-35-I Adir fighter jets unleashed waves of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip, targeting “militant hideouts” and “military infrastructure” in the recent conflict with Hamas.
The Israel Defense Forces launched a major offensive against Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, after hundreds of projectiles were fired from the area at Israeli cities. IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says some 80 fighter jets, including the advanced F-35 jets, took part in the operation.
The F-35-I also called Adir (The Mighty One) is a heavily modified version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet.
There are many firsts involving the Jewish state and the F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Israel is the first buyer outside the fighter jet’s nine-nation co-development group. While the deal was signed with the US in 2010, Israel received the aircraft between 2015 and 2017.
In May 2018, Israel became the first country to use the F-35 in combat roles. The Jewish nation also became the first country to operate these aircraft in the Middle East.
The American F-35 Lightning II is loaded with modern technology that surpasses any current fourth-generation or even fifth-gen fighter jets. Israelis acquired them with their own specific upgrades.
However, the use of customized aircraft is not new in the military domain. Most countries get their foreign-made aircraft modified to suit their requirements — for instance: the Su-30MKI (India-specific variant of Su-30), F-15SA (Saudi variant of the F-15), CF-18 Hornet (Canadian variant of F-18 Hornet), and a lot more.
On these lines, the Israeli variant of the F-35 is designated as F-35I.
This variant reportedly packs a lot more features than the American jets. They can be externally modified by the Israeli Air Force, part of which includes conformal fuel tanks that greatly plugs the aircraft’s much-needed capability gap of having a short-range.
Combined with drop tanks, an aircraft’s range can be significantly increased as has been done with most of their F-16 and F-15 fleet.
According to defense analyst Tyler Rogoway, a combat aircraft’s range is a huge deal for any nation, but for Israel, whose primary enemy remains Iran, it is a grave concern. Targets in that country can reach 1,700 miles from Israeli borders.
The IAF has also struck sites near the Horn of Africa and as far away as Tunisia in the past. They see their global reach as a pillar of deterrence against would-be aggressors, so their ability to reach out and strike over great distances reliably needs to be credible.
Three new "Adir" (F-35I) aircraft touched down at Nevatim Airbase in Southern Israel today. The new advanced jets will join the lines of the 116th ("Lions of the South") Squadron to strengthen the IAF's operational capabilities ?? pic.twitter.com/EAiEIlvTZ2
— Israeli Air Force (@IAFsite) April 25, 2021
Rogoway, however, remains skeptical about heavy modifications of the Israeli F-35 and their impact on the airframe.
“It is not clear exactly what such an apparatus would look like, or how it would impact the F-35’s low radar signature and already somewhat paltry kinematics. There is also the question of airframe fatigue induced by mounting thousands of pounds of gas where it was never intended to be placed. Still, the IAF’s lust for the extended range will likely trump these concerns,” he adds.
Another significant feature that Israel got from the Americans is the access to certain areas of F-35’s highly digitized architecture, including mission control hardware and software, communications systems, integration of its own weapons, and electronic warfare and surveillance suite.
Israel wants developmental and operational independence with its F-35Is, including a highly controversial plan to sustain the aircraft indigenously throughout its lifetime.
This would also help Israel in the event of a major cyberattack, which could affect the F-35’s highly sophisticated computer-based avionics. This will keep Israeli F-35s potentially safer than others operated around the world.