Dr. Aaron Lerner -
The Israeli F-35 salesman says “it’s amazingly stealthy. Simply amazing,”
Well, dear reader – it is so amazingly stealthy that the Russians and the
Chinese already TODAY have the technology to track it.
And we are talking about a piece of equipment that is supposed to provide
service for many decades – not years.
So if there is already technology out there already to track the F-35 today,
what are the odds that Iran and whatever else is out there in a couple of
years doesn’t also have that technology – and that the tracking is
integrating into some kind of targeting system.
Please don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that Lockheed Martin Israel CE
Brigadier General (ret.) Joshua Shani is an Israeli patriot.
But like most of the Israeli military he’s apparently a “best case scenario”
kind of guy.
Consider all the military who pushed for us to trade the Golan Heights for
gizmos and kept pushing for Israel to withdraw from pretty much everywhere
in exchange for “appropriate security arrangements”.
Let’s be clear about this:
- Israeli gizmos are going to be loaded on a piece of equipment that in all
likelihood will NOT be stealth for the bulk of its performance life.
- The F-35 platform threatens to have unprecedented down time thanks to the
leading edge composites its made from that are both extremely sensitive and
tremendously time consuming to repair.
- The F-35 platform has many sealed “black boxes” that are “plug and play”.
We can’t maintain or repair them – just switch them An easy stranglehold on
us if the day comes that the man in the White House wants to keep us on a
- The resources allocated to operating and maintaining this huge inventory
of jets will require not investing in some other critical projects.
Yes. We face tremendous challenges.
Yes. We have to think out of the box.
But is staking our survival on a “stealth” jet that already isn’t stealth
really thinking out of the box?
Israel’s F-35s to have unique secret components
Lockheed Martin Israel CE Joshua Shani tells “Globes” about Israel’s newest
Yuval Azulai – Globes 27/11/2016,
Of the 33 F-35 stealth fighter planes purchased by Israel, the first two
will be delivered in three weeks, landing at Nevatim Air Base in southern
Israel. Another round of purchases of this advanced, expensive, and
controversial fighter is already around the corner. A decision is likely in
the coming weeks, with the security cabinet being asked to approve the
Ministry of Defense plan to buy 17 more planes.
The first 33 planes were purchased in two series: the first for $2.75
billion and the second for $2.82 billion, including infrastructure, parts,
and training simulators.
“33 warplanes is an impossible number,” Lockheed Martin Israel CE Brigadier
General (ret.) Joshua Shani, who led the development and production plan for
the advanced aircraft, told “Globes”. “33 are too many for one squadron and
two few for two squadrons. The cabinet previously decided to buy 33 planes
with an option for 17 more, which will make it possible to maintain two
squadrons, and now they have to exercise the option. Minister of Defense
Avigdor Liberman notified us that that the defense establishment wants to
exercise the option, and this requires cabinet approval. We got the
impression that the matter has reached the home stretch.”
“Globes”: How long will it be before Israel has two such squadrons of 25
Shani: “I estimate that delivery of 50 planes can be completed by 2022. The
time table can also be brought forward, with delivery being completed by
2021. The money is already there; it’s included in the new $38 billion
program of US military aid to Israel over the coming decade. Lockheed Martin
will step up the pace of production in order to bring forward the delivery
of the planes to Israel.”
Other than the US, Israel will be the first country to have an operational
squadron of F-35s, despite not having been part of the consortium of
countries that participated in the development of the expensive plane and
financed it. Furthermore, the US contacted Israel when the plan for the
aircraft was just beginning and offered it a senior partnership in the
ambitious venture, but the Ministry of Defense said thank you, but no thank
you. Such a partnership would have involved a huge $200 million investment,
and in Israel, there is always something to do with such money when defense
is involved. Israel joined the program only at a later stage as an observer,
if only to make requests later, and it did so.
How did it happen that countries made huge investments with Israel looking
over their shoulders, and Israel got the planes first?
Shani laughs: “Because we’re the most impertinent people around. Everything
we do is based on impertinence, and that’s the case here. We used our elbows
to push in again and again, and then we did it some more. There are also our
security needs, which are well-known to the US and all the other nice member
countries in the project. They realized that Israel really needed this
Maybe it is because selling arms to the IDF is the best sales promotion, or
maybe it is because it will be easy for Lockheed Martin to sell these planes
around the world around the world after the Israeli air force, which bombed
the nuclear reactor in Iraq, destroyed the antiaircraft batteries in the
Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, and flew to Entebbe, found the F-35capable of
meeting its challenges.
“There’s no doubt that selling to Israel has added value, but let’s be
realistic – it has waned with the years. Israel was once the first country
to shoot down MIGs with F-16s. Once, there were dogfights. Today, there are
several other wars besides ours. The Israel Air Force’s prestige is intact,
but against whom has the Air Force fought in recent years? It’s gaining
almost no operational experience with modern planes. What we did was special
once, but that’s no longer the case. Today the Russians are attacking, the
US is attacking, the Dutch are attacking, and NATO forces are attacking more
than Israel, so this balance has changed; it doesn’t carry the weight it
once did. Something has receded. Nevertheless, the fact that Israel did join
the program for the plane at a later stage encouraged those countries that
decided to buy the planes at a time when there were arguments and
A third squadron?
The 17 additional planes that Israel stands to order soon from Lockheed
Martin are not the end of the prolonged and intensive saga between the Air
Force and the Ministry of Defense and the world’s largest arms firm.
Lockheed Martin hopes that Israel will want a third squadron of stealth
fighters, which will eventually give it a total of 75 F-35s. Incidentally,
if it is decided to purchase a third squadron of stealth fighters, these may
be the version of the plane with short takeoffs and vertical landings.
According to Shani, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is very interested in
such a squadron, which will provide a solution for a scenario in which Air
Force bases are bombarded by thousands of rockets and missiles, damaging
runways and the Air Force’s ability to function.
While Israel paid $122 million for each aircraft in its first two rounds of
F-35 purchases, the third will cost less per aircraft. The US Air Force is
currently paying $80-85 million per plane. It is unclear whether this is the
price that Israel will pay, and Lockheed Martin is unwilling to provide
exact figures. Shani says, “There will be a significant drop in price, and
the price per plane will in any case be less than $100 million.”
Why is the US Air Force paying less?
“Because the US Air Force doesn’t put into the plane what Israel wants to
put in it.”
What Israel wants to put in this plane is a story in itself. The US did not
want to hear about the plans of the Israeli air force to do to the F-35 what
it does to every airplane it buys: replacement of the original systems with
systems made by Israeli defense companies, all of them secret, in order to
adapt the planes’ performance to the IDF’s needs.
“There was a very long and difficult persuasion process between the Israeli
defense establishment and Air Force and the US,” Shani says. “At first, they
said to Israel, ‘This is the plane, this is what it does, don’t bother us.’
With time, however, they realized that Israel doesn’t buy an airplane like
that; it wants its own special systems that no one else knows about. They
slowly started bending in the right direction. They softened up, and we’re
already at a point at which all the Israeli requests have been accepted: all
the electronic warfare, command and control, and communications systems
installed in the plane are Israeli-made.”
So the Israeli F-35 and the US F-35 are substantially different?
“‘Substantially different’ is an exaggeration, but yes, the Israeli plane is
better for fulfilling the needs of the Israel Air Force, because the US
doesn’t have the secret systems installed on the Israeli version, such as an
internal communications system between the planes and air control. The US
has its own good systems, but they are different. Israel always wanted its
own independent electronic warfare systems; if a new Russian missile is
brought to the region, these systems can change the capabilities of its
planes within a short time and adapt them to a new threat in the area. It
takes the US months to make such changes, and we don’t always have this
amount of time.”
A wave of criticism
The Air Force’s plan for procuring the advanced plans has drawn withering
criticism over the years, which has increased in recent months. This debate,
incidentally, is not confined to Israel. Doubts about the readiness of the
planes and their true capabilities led to public discussions in other
countries planning to buy them, such as Australia, Canada, and the US, of
course. “Every new plane entering the picture is criticized like that,”
Shani says. “We still remember the terrible fuss about development of the
F-16. They also asked ‘Who needs this?’ then. A new airplane always attracts
criticism from people who like saying ‘no.’ Why? Because saying ‘no’ is
always easier than saying ‘yes.’ There was a big crisis at the time with the
F-15, and even with the F-4 Phantom, but there was much less noise.”
What happened this time?
“What happened was that there had never been a single aircraft in the
Western world that was going to get all the business from everyone for 40
years. Up until now, they divided models and types of planes used by the
various branches of the US armed forces between the companies. In this case,
for the first time, they didn’t divide the work among many companies. The
question was whether Boeing or Lockheed Martin would take the plan.
Incidentally, the fact that we got the plan surprised us all. We didn’t
believe that we’d get a giant $400 billion project; we assumed that they’d
eventually go for some kind of combined solution that would satisfy both
Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As soon as one Western company won the whole
pot, all the others were totally opposed. How do you express opposition? You
leak fabrications to the media.”
What fabrications? Last March, US Department of Defense director of
operation test and evaluation Dr. Michael Gilmore appeared before the US
Congress and listed more than 930 failures in the plane. He asserted that
the F-35′s fighting ability was limited, and that the weapon system was not
“So what?,” Shani says dismissively. “Most of these failures were corrected
long before he presented them to Congress. One of the failures he listed was
that the plane could only fly three missions a day. Today, it can fly eight
missions a day. There are always problems in this difficult process, and we
always solve them. The fact is that 200 of these planes are already flying
now, 180 of them in the US, and they have completed over 80,000 flying
hours. You have to take things in proportion. A senior general in the
Israeli air force once told me that the more Congressional reports were
issued about problems in the plane, the more calm and confident he was,
because it meant that the faults were being discovered and corrected. What’s
bad about that? It means that there is an entire system of strong and
responsible control. Today, you have 10 Western powers continuing their
cooperation with this plan. Like you, everyone reads those reports brought
to Congress, and they still believe in the plane. Are they all stupid?”
The wave of criticism about the stealth fighter’s supposedly limited
capabilities and its un-readiness to perform the promised missions, combined
with its astronomical price, NIS 500 million for one plane, is far from
naive. Shani says, “In Israel, they made an awful noise about those reports,
completely out of proportion to other countries. In this case, I can point
my finger at the place from which the poison came, and I do mean poison.”
Did someone spread this “poison,” as you call it, in an attempt to thwart
the procurement of the stealth fighters and so that another plane made by
another firm would be chosen?
“That’s a nice possibility, and if not to buy another airplane, then to use
this money for other things. With this money, you can buy a lot of other
things, such as new refueling planes, maybe 20,000 APCs, helicopters, and
many other things. It’s legitimate to want this money, but they shouldn’t
lie, and there were many lies here, but I think it’s over now. I’m already
immune to criticism like this. I was more sensitive at first.”
The criticism did not even omit the F-35′s definitive feature – the stealth
capability that enables it to attack targets without being detected.
“Yes, it’s amazingly stealthy. Simply amazing,” Shani responds to the
criticisms. “I was in the US, and I met with several senior Israel Air Force
pilots who went there for special training in flying the aircraft. We met
half an hour after they finished an operational training mission with the
F-35 on a simulator. They told me that it’s impossible, there is no such
plane, and believe me, these guys know planes. They fly F-15s and F-16s, and
they’re experienced. Their eyes sparkled. One of them told me something I
can’t get out of my head: ‘This plane isn’t fair to the enemy. It doesn’t
give him a chance.’ That’s so right. It’s so stealthy, so sophisticated, and
so easy to operate. Such an aircraft really is impossible, but it exists.
The US built it, and they’re giving us the money to buy it from them. Our
Air Force wants it, because it can replace the outmoded planes and improve
capabilities, because the Air Force will have the world’s best aircraft.
What more do you want? To go to the Russians and buy MIG-29s?”
Israeli companies profit
The Israeli defense companies, which were anxious before the signing of the
first stealth fighters deal about the possibility that their systems would
not be given access to Lockheed Martin’s super-secret plane, have now been
quiet for years about Israel’s F-35 procurement program. When these
companies forbear talking about something, it is usually because it is good
for them. This is very understandable, because figures from both the
Ministry of Defense and Lockheed Martin indicate that the Israeli companies
taking part in the venture will make enormous profits. The main such
companies are Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT), which is
supplying the pilots’ helmets for all the stealth fighters produced to date,
and for thousands more to be produced in the coming years, and Israel
Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1), which has started a special
production line in its facilities in Lod, where it is manufacturing 811
pairs of wings for these planes. The agreements signed by Lockheed Martin
with Israeli companiesin this project amount to nearly $1 billion, and Shani
says that there is more to come: “The Israeli companiesare making big
profits from this – billions of dollars. If Israel decides to procure a
total of 75 F-35s, $4.3 billion will come into the Israeli companies. IAI
and Elbit Systems will be guaranteed work for many years ahead.”
These companies are now worried about the new defense aid agreement with the
US, which will not allow the conversion of 25% of US aid into shekels,
thereby detracting from the Ministry of Defense’s ability to buy from them.
“In order to discuss this issue, you have to know a little history: why the
US allowed the conversion of 25% of its aid into shekels in the first place.
This was compensation for the cancellation of the Lavi jet fighter project
aimed at strengthening the Israeli defense companies. That was many years
ago, however, and the Israeli defense industry hasgrown, and Israel has
become a major weapons producer, the fourth or fifth largest in the world.
Now the US is saying, ‘Hey, hello, that’s enough. There’s a limit. We’re
already giving you a lot of money, and you’re competing with us around the
world, and beating us in a lot of places.’ From the point of view of the US
legislator, that’s entirely justified.”
The Israeli defense companiesfeel that they have been the losers in all of
this. It comes to almost a billion shekels a year.
“Yes, but they put in a transition period, so it will take place only seven
years from now. It’s hard not to agree with the US on this point, or at
least to understand them. Israeli industry is sophisticated enough to make
out all right. It will surely find a way to manufacture in the US and have
its sales from there paid with US aid money. It will benefit greatly from
those dollars. To say that they abused us? Wait a minute; the US is giving
us $38 billion overa decade.”
Shani and cargo planes
Shani prides himself on the status that Lockheed Martin has attained in
Israel. In addition to the F-35 deal, the company is involved in other
defense enterprises in Israel, and also supplies other weapons system to the
Air Force, such as F-16s and the new C-130J Hercules cargo planes, which
Israel calls the Shimshon. Israel has used older Hercules since the 1960s,
and Shani himself flew one of them when he led the flight to rescue Israeli
hostages in Entebbe in the summer of 1976. “It’s a story of natural aging.
No one has invented a new generation of heavy transportation planes since
then, and those used by the Air Force until now have overstayed their
welcome; most of them have reached the end of their lifespan. The new plane
is 30% better than the older plane according to every possible measure. It
can bear more weight, fly faster, consumes less fuel, and needs a smaller
crew, plus it’s good for 40 years.”
Israel has so far ordered seven of these planes from Lockheed Martin, and is
in the process of absorbing them. According to Shani, Israel is still
considering the procurement of two more planes for in-flightfueling.
Shani and the Chinese
China and Russia are breathing down the neck of the US weapons program, and
are taking a particular interest in the development of its main strategic
warplanes. Shani suspects industrial espionage, combined with cyber attacks,
which ended in the two countries getting their hands on at least some of the
secret F-35 technology: “You see the Chinese and the Russians, and they have
capabilities. They’re advanced. In my opinion, they stole the idea, and also
some of its technologies, and are building pretty good aircraft, although
they lag far behind us.”
They really stole?
“Yes, in my opinion. If you look even at the external form of these planes
and at our plane, you’ll find it hard to see the differences. With the
Chinese, it’s mostly cyber attacks. Look, over the years of the F-35
project, Lockheed Martin has also become a cyber-security power. How did
that happen? The company began to suspect that its laboratories were being
penetrated, and started to produce lines of defense to protect them against
online penetration – one defenseline, and another and another. What came out
of it? Lockheed Martin now has a great cyber protection product , and has
started to export it to other countries.”
So now we have to worry about the stealth fighters of Russia and China?
“It will take them time. They’re far behind.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com -
on November 27, 2016