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Israel prepares F-35s for potential mission in Iran

21st February 2024 - 07:02 GMT | by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv


Shephard Defence Insight has estimated the F35I Adir to have a flyaway unit cost of US$102 million. (Photo: IAI)

The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons has led Israel to make changes to its F-35s while Russian actions in Syria have acted as a catalyst for action in developing anti-jamming systems.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been preparing its F-35s for possible attacks on Iranian nuclear sites, according to sources in Israel.

Last week, Ali-Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran’s nuclear agency, implied in remarks broadcast on Iranian state television that Iran had everything it required to construct a nuclear bomb.

The changes made by the IAF to its F-35s were behind the decision to perform heavy maintenance in Israel rather than send the stealth aircraft to a European maintenance centre. The changes being made have the intention of making the stealth aircraft more capable should Israel decide to attack nuclear sites in Iran.

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The IAF has tested some of the modifications made to its F-35I Adir stealth fighters to make them more capable in a potential attack on Iran. In March 2023, the IAF participated in a joint exercise with Greece, France, Cyprus, Italy and the US.

Sources in Israel were only ready to say that the F-35 operated by the IAF would carry more fuel “in special tanks” in the non-stealth phase of the flight, noting that the added fuel was “a must” even with aerial refuelling capabilities.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has developed special fuel tanks for different types of fighter aircraft and has operated old Boeing 707s converted to operate as refuelling aircraft. In recent years, Israel has ordered new Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers, the first of which will be delivered towards the end of 2025.

Special test aircraft have recently been armed with an Israeli-made precision-guided munition weighing 1,000kg. The bomb, designed to fit the weapons bay of the F-35, has been described as a weapon with “super penetration”.

No further details have been released on the bomb but one of Israel company Rafael’s family of smart bombs, the Spice 2000, has an add-on kit for 900kg warheads such as the MK-84, BLU-109 and RAP-2000. It can be assumed that the new bomb was based on the experience gathered by using this bomb.

In recent tests, this unique bomb developed for the IAF’s F-35s achieved a circular error probability (CEP) of three metres.

The F-35 test aircraft operated by the IAF’s main test unit has been equipped with systems that enable it to fly and launch weapon systems in EW-saturated areas.

The test aircraft was also used to enhance the F-35’s capabilities to intercept armed-UAVs that Iran has been manufacturing in growing numbers, many of which have found themselves sent to Russia to be used in the country’s war in Ukraine.

Israeli sources have said that the growing threat of Iranian armed-UAVs was reflected in the changes performed in the IAF’s F-35s which included allowing pilots to receive direct data from ground units that are part of the IDF’s “Depth Command”.

Two years ago, Israel was affected by Russian GPS denial systems operated by Russian forces in Syria. During the event, Israeli civil aviation suffered the most severe interference, but recent years have seen the acceleration of the development of systems that would make Israeli-developed military systems immune to such disruptions. Some are already in operation while others have continued testing.

Officially, nobody in Israel has been ready to address the problem. Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland said that if advanced Western weapon systems got to the hands of Iran it could cause a problem if these systems were used against Israel.

“When a country like Iran puts its hands on an advanced US-made weapon systems such as the JDAM it creates the danger of finding the weak spots in such a system,” Eiland remarked. “In the JDAM example, the GPS navigation system can be affected by advanced GPS denial technologies such as those developed by Russia.”

Israeli-made weapon systems that use GPS as a guidance sensor also use other methods that are immune to interferences. By analysing the Russian GPS denial systems operated in Syria, Israel took action to be better prepared for more aggressive GPS denial.

The proliferation of Russian-made GPS jamming systems in the Middle East accelerated the process of equipping the IAF’s aircraft with anti-jamming systems. In 2021, the IAF revealed that an advanced anti-jamming system developed by IAI had been integrated into advanced platforms used by its different squadrons.

The system, the ADA anti-jam GPS system, was designed to protect GPS/GNSS navigation from jamming. According to IAI, the system has been integrated into advanced platforms used by the IAF including F-16 fighter jets and various types of UAV. The ADA system has demonstrated operational maturity and has been in use by a number of international customers on various airborne, land and marine platforms.

IAI said that ADA was combat proven in providing immunity against GPS jammers after it demonstrated its effectiveness in the 2021 Israel–Palestine crisis in Gaza.

Israeli sources have said that the changes in the IAF’s F-35 were also made to enable the aircraft to operate in a “stand-alone mode” when ground forces transmit target data directly to the pilot without going through the IAF operation centre.

“This would enable the stealth aircraft to hit pop-up targets that require the shortest sensor to shooter time,” one of the sources said.

The capability will be based on a very advanced, highly classified data transfer system developed in Israel.

Arie Egozi


Arie Egozi

Born in Israel, Arie Egozi served in the IDF and holds a political science and …

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