The Israeli Air Force (IAF) received its first test F-35I aircraft, custom-built for Israel, which gives the IAF an opportunity to install its own electronic warfare, communications and weapons systems.
The test aircraft, designated as F-35I, arrived at the IAF Flight Testing Center (FTC) at Tel-Nof AFB on Wednesday, an article on the IAF website said.
The F-35I is equipped with advanced experimenting capabilities that will allow the IAF to test its own weapons and electronic systems on the F-35. The experimental aircraft was manufactured as per Israeli specifications.
The IAF has preferred use of Israeli operating systems and munitions on its various flight platforms. In the majority of the acquisitions from the United States, the IAF is given the opportunity to install its own electronic warfare, communications and weapons systems - for the F-35I, the situation is more complicated: "The IAF doesn't have access to everything, and cannot fully intervene", Lt. Col. Y, Commander of the FTC Squadron said.
"The experimental F-35I will act as the main building block for acquiring new flight capabilities, and allow for independent installation of munitions,” the commander added.
"New weapons affect the aircraft in different ways. We run an entire series of tests to certify a capability, such as load testing, fluttering, and release fluency," he added. "In load testing, we examine the durability of the weapon and aircraft while performing complex maneuvers. In flutter testing, we check for aerodynamic phenomenon that may endanger the jet. While testing release fluency, we scan for issues in the release process of munitions - a significant test for the F-35 since its payload is released from an internal hold in the jet's body."
Teams from F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin will arrive at the squadron to deliver system instructions to its personnel. "The IAF knows how to operate the F-35, but does not yet know how to operate an experimental model. We need to receive the relevant knowledge in order to operate the aircraft and fly it prior to the testing process," Lt. Col. Y said.
Why exactly is this experimental F-35I model the first of its kind in the world? To date, the only experimental F-35 models manufactured were aeromechanical testing aircraft of limited operational ability or testing models meant to examine specific systems. The arriving F-35I model has advanced aeromechanical testing capabilities and full operational capabilities; we could, if necessary, convert the model to an operational one, Lt. Col. Y commented.
"The test F-35I model is the first-ever to be manufactured in the United States, as per Israeli specifications. Now, they will likely produce additional aircraft based on the current model for themselves", he added.
Missiles and munitions made by Israeli firm, Rafael are widely used in Israeli F-16s and F-15 jets. These include air-to-air misssiles such as Python-5, I-Derby and air-to-surface missiles such as Spice 1000. It is possible that some of these could be adapted to the F-35.
Installing Israeli-made weapons and elecronic warfare (EW) systems would be one way of maintaining qualitative military edge that the US has assured Israel while selling F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates. The UAE jets would be equipped with the standard weapons and EW systems sold to other customers as well; while Israeli F-35s would have unique weapons and electronic systems that others do not have access to- Ed comment.