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Testbed aircraft key to Israel’s enhanced F-35

28th January 2020 - 15:30 GMT | by Arie Egozi in Tel Aviv


As the introduction of Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 Adir fighter aircraft begins to gather pace, the pending arrival of a testbed aircraft will spur the upgrade of the fleet with Israeli-developed content.

The second IAF F-35 squadron was inaugurated on 23 January and to date 20 aircraft have been delivered. The service now expects the delivery of a one-off Lockheed Martin F-35 testbed aircraft in mid-2020, together with six additional aircraft as part of the 50 under contract.

The IAF has prepared a list of weapon systems and ‘functional’ systems that it intends to test on this special F-35 test aircraft, which has been manufactured according to specifications that took two years to prepare.

The test aircraft will enable the IAF’s flight test centre to enhance the capabilities of the F-35 in air-to-air and air-to-ground missions using the classified systems developed for this purpose within Israel.

Since the stealth fighter aircraft arrived in Israel, some Israeli-made systems have been tested in various scenarios, but officials said it will only be when the test aircraft arrives that these tests will be able to be performed fully.

‘All our platforms have been upgraded to enable stretching of the flight envelope while using the unique weapon systems made by the Israeli industries,’ an IAF officer from its flight test centre said.

Ten Israeli companies are supplying assemblies and electrical parts for the F-35 programme, including major supplier Israel Aerospace Industries which has opened a production line for F-35 wings.

Operational systems under development for use on the F-35 include electronic systems and weapon systems that fit the operational requirements of the IAF.

While these companies were invariably reluctant to provide any details about the systems under development, sources say that the focus is on special air-to-ground systems as well as systems that can enhance the F-35 capabilities as a ‘knowledge centre’ for other forces in the air, on the ground and at sea.

Maj Gen (Retired) Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former commander of the IAF, told Shephard that the F-35 will add two main capabilities to the existing ones of the IAF.

‘Stealth is one major capability, especially in our region where enemy countries are operating huge numbers of ground-to-air weapons. The second capability is the one that allows this aircraft to receive and distribute all kinds of combat data from a long list of sensors. This is very important for an air force that is performing combat missions almost continuously,’ Eliyahu noted.

According to the IAF, because the F-35 is a fifth-generation aircraft, all the planned upgrades are ‘directly connected’ to the special maintenance programme of the aircraft.

The IAF has made it clear that all levels of the F-35 maintenance will be performed in Israel, unlike other F-35 operators who have agreed to perform any heavy maintenance in US-controlled centres.

Arie Egozi


Arie Egozi

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

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