Israel Air Force may buy vertical-takeoff planes to dodge Hizballah-Hamas rockets
This is reported in the American Defense News. The expanding Palestinian and Lebanese Hizballah’s missile threats to its southern and northern air bases have persuaded Israeli’s Air Force to consider switching its procurement plans from 100 US F-35A stealth jets to the F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version, designed to serve the US Marine Corps under fire.
Israel’s southern and northern air bases have come within range of rockets from Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas from the Gaza Strip, respectively, and possibly from the West Bank too. Air landings and takeoffs have therefore become hazardous. Israeli air bases and installations have been fortified against Palestinian rocket attack from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“Air base survivability is no longer hypothetical,” said one retired air force general.
debkafile‘s military sources report that IAF chiefs reckon that in any future flare-ups, the Palestinians will not be satisfied with hitting Sderot and Ashkelon but will go for its main air bases as well.
This information has been kept from the Israeli public as the Olmert government continues to avoid proactive options for knocking out the increasingly dangerous Hamas and Hizballah’s rocket capabilities – boosted by Iran, and remains fixed in defensive mode. This fixation is not lost on Iranian, Syrian, Hizballah and Hamas in charting their assault scenarios against Israel.
Most military strategists warn that a comprehensive ground operation is unavoidable and the longer it is delayed, the harder it will be and the more casualties.
Israel’s designated Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, who assumes his new duties on April 1, stated at a recent lecture: “Professionally speaking, if Israel wants to prevent high-trajectory rocket or mortar fire, it must establish good control on the ground.” He added: “…if Israeli forces are present on the ground… then we can stop the development and manufacture of rockets and other weapons in time.”
debkafile‘s military sources add that the government continues to lag behind Israel’s perceived security needs. The new Lockheed Martin planes will not be available in time for the confrontations widely predicted to erupt over the next two or three years. The rockets already in Hizballah and Hamas hands – not to mention Iran and Syria – may be able to prevent some Israeli warplanes from taking off from vulnerable runways.
Salvation will not come from the F-35B, which is still undergoing initial testing. On March 26, a Pentagon Acquisition Board will decide whether to approve the production of the first six STOVL F-35Bs, conditional on a successful first flight. In April, the first plane will begin propulsion system ground testing, ahead of its first flight by June. Its capabilities in relation to cost have still to be determined. There is no estimated timeline for the F-25B to go into service with the US Marines.
Israeli defense ministry’s director general Pinhas Buchris visits Washington in mid-March to discuss IAF procurements.