Long Range Infiltrators
A critical component of Israel’s long term TEFEN procurement program in the air involves what most would consider a fairly unglamorous transport upgrade. The Hercules class transports are more often than not looked upon as standard equipment and troop movers, a role the Hercules has been playing in numerous air forces for decades now.
Israel’s original SuperHercules C-130j procurement deal initially started in 2008, when the US Congress was notified by the Pentagon of an impending sale for up to 9 specially designed transports. Back in 2008 deliveries were expected to begin around the 2012 time frame. Haaretz now reports that there is (unconfirmed) movement this week on the transport deal – with Defense Minister Ehud Barak & PM Netanyahu having met with US defense officials..
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington this week absorbing the full wrath of the Obama administration, the Pentagon and Israel’s defense establishment were in the process of sealing a large arms deal.
According to the deal, Israel will purchase three new Hercules C-130J airplanes. The deal for the three aircrafts, designed by Lockheed Martin, is worth roughly a quarter billion dollars. Each aircraft costs $70 million. The aircrafts were manufactured specifically for Israeli needs, and include a large number of systems produced by Israel’s defense industry [...]
My understanding of these matters is that the Hercs would cost somewhat more, in the 100 million range mostly due to some serious upgrades above the Super Hercules’ already impressive renewed electrical & systems roster. The total package with optional aircraft over the multi-year deal was estimated to possibly reach 1.9 Billion dollars if all options were exercised.
Word was that we had asked Lockheed to equip the new Israeli transports with unique in flight air refueling capability to ‘extend their operational range’. This beyond the substantial modifications Israel has requested electronically to mate the transports with Israeli systems and electronic counter measures. These initial Hercs are clearly of the Special Operations variety designed for deep insertion & support roles for both men & matériel.
Drop & Mop
Israel has a long history of unique Hercules operational roles, the most famous being the Entebbe hostage rescue which saw Israel insert special forces all the way into Africa while taking over an international airport. If these reports are true, Israeli pressure to get this pre-Obama administration deal on track & moving would be a major coup and signal some cooperation between the IDF & Pentagon, as arms sales to Israel from the US have apparently been quite frozen on almost every level since Obama took office. Including helicopters, heavy ordinance JDAM bombs, electronics & reserve supplies of jet fuel for war contingencies.
Congress pledges support
Despite White House humiliation & Israeli arm twisting of late there is a tidal wave of congressional support to keep Israel on the cutting edge militarily, and supply us with assistance pledges built into the US Israel alliance. Just this week Nita Lowey, the powerful chairwoman of the US House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations who oversees the military & aid packages for Israel re-iterated solidly that whatever rifts may develop with the White House, the military aid would still be forthcoming..
“There is no question in my mind that the 10-year memorandum of understanding is solid,” Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the US House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, said of the decade-long US aid plan under which $3 billion will be going to Israel this year. “There is strong bipartisan support for Israel in the Congress that will not falter.”
She said that continuing support is also in place when it comes to the US commitment to Israel maintaining a qualitative military edge over its Arab neighbors and other forms of military coordination.
“The military cooperation, the intelligence cooperation, the focus on Iran, is solid and strengthens every year,” said Lowey, who also sits on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees. [...]
With so much pressure coming out of the Obama admin these days, these displays of support & friendship are heartening to say the least. We require our ally’s help, SuperHercs & all.
Last week I was complaining about the JSF fighter, and asking if we had ‘screwed the pooch’ on the planned purchase due to the fighters legendary problems.
JPOST now confirms that senior Israeli Air force officers are re-thinking the viability of our JSF plans due to the delays, and considering more F-15s as a more logical solution. That’s pretty much what I figured in last week’s post, and many others. Last week wasn’t the 1st time I’ve questioned this particular procurement piece..
Initially we were looking at 35-45 Million. Then it went to 50 Million. There was no shortage of shock when the figures jumped to 65 Million, this is when debate started to really heat up because well, the spiral was going upward out of control. In the USA the Pentagon itself was non too pleased either.
Then we started hearing 85 Million dollars per plane. I know my eyes popped out of my head – But 100 million for a stock variety JSF nulls one of the main JSF thrusts & selling points, it’s former afford-ability. At that rate Israel clearly cannot pick up the numbers previously envisioned. At higher rates it becomes questionable whether we can pick up any at all..
What’s a few Billion between friends?
Now we are learning the plane will cost over 135 Million in America, for US purposes.. and that’s before that number has frozen.
If you tack on Israeli requirements (still unresolved after 3 years of negotiation) we best figure minimum 150 Million, probably much closer to 200 Million. Hello! TOTALLY UNPROCURABLE for us in numbers we envisioned. We could buy twice as many F15s, which as JPOST says - are ready to get all the way to Iran.. loaded to the hilt.
In May 2009 I wrote the following while evaluating the new Boeing F15-SE as a contender to replace our JSF order..
25 additional F15-SEs could dovetail nicely into the established maintenance, training and equipment pipeline more quickly & cheaply. [...] The F35 is late to the party and under dressed, the F15 Strike Eagle will have to do the job in the near term. In that case we should order more of them.
Earlier in May when the new F-15 was unveiled I was beefing about the JSF costs in a familiar refrain, comparing it to an equivalent F15 purchase instead..
In the long run the costs savings for Israel may be substantial, in training, maintenance, and upgrades to existing F-15 fleets.
I’m therefore less than shocked to read the excellent Yaakov Katz at JPOST pen the following yesterday..
Major delays in the production of the fifth-generation stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will likely lead to the postponement of Israel’s procurement plans, which initially set the signing of a contract by the end of March.
One top IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Defense Ministry was unlikely to sign a letter of agreement (LOA) with the Pentagon before the end of 2010. “Everything now appears to be pushed off by at least a year,” the senior officer said.
On Sunday night, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi flew to Washington for talks with top Pentagon officials. Ashkenazi plans to speak with his American counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, and other Pentagon officials about the delays in the production of the JSF and how it will affect the IDF. [...]
Nor does it surprise
That such a tale would continue along these lines..
Israel had planned to order a first squadron of 25 jets within the coming months and to procure another 50 by the end of the decade. Due to the delays, some IAF officers are calling for a review of the procurement plans and to consider the possible purchase of additional F-15Is made by Boeing Company. Israel already has a squadron of F-15Is that are capable of carrying massive amounts of weaponry and flying long distances, including to Iran.
“There is some thought in this direction,” a top IAF source said recently. “Based on the development requirements, the F-35 is supposed to be a more advanced plane primarily since it is stealth, but delays in the production have led to new thinking within the IAF.”
This whole contract has been bungled on every level. Back in America the plane is not ready, its costs have literally quadrupled from initial estimates. The Pentagon started playing games with Israel that are yet to be resolved, not allowing Israel access to key computers or the ability to install IAF electronics, weapons & systems. That really added insult to wallet injury. It’s a cluster fark A to Z thus far from every end.
It’s not only Israel either, our American friends & allies (Well if you consider the Brits allies lol) are taking it on the jaw with this weapons system too. Big mess, Lockheed we love you.. But what the hell is going on over there!?
Friends in high places
Another point of interest is the fact that our guys are talking F15I instead of F15SE. Could it be because we already know the Obama administration won’t sell us the new F15SE without making us jump through flaming hoops? Can’t be, American Jewish Democrats assure us this is the friendliest US administration EVAH!
Maybe we can walk to Iran?
Israel is still negotiating the endless contract for the JSF fighter, who’s sky rocketing price & endless delays are now becoming the stuff of legends.
Via the Weekly Standard we visit Aviation Week where rumors now abound of what some are calling the JSF manufacturing disaster, the fighter is now years behind due to problems and delayed flight testing. We will never see it by the 2014 time frame envisioned, which itself is two years behind what Israel had initially projected..
If February was a bad news month for the Joint Strike Fighter, with the program boss fired, a 13-month delay in test and a two-year slip in Air Force initial operational capability, look out for March. A Government Accountability Office report is rolling down the tracks, along with a Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) which, as we told you in Defense Technology International a month ago, is almost certainly going to record a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach.
Meanwhile, the flight test program continues to log an all-time slow record. [...]
The Obama administration along with Sec Def Gates have nailed the F-22 coffin shut. Despite claims to the contrary and attempts to soft pedal the issue officially in Israel – Our arms purchases from the US are moving at a glacial pace. We still don’t have resolution regarding Apache Longbow attack helicopter upgrades which I maintained were frozen by the Obama administration along with access to several other platforms. It’s now been a year that we are negotiating for half a dozen chopper upgrades for a helicopter we already fly, can you say deep freeze?
All this JSF woe leaves Israel, not too mention US forces in a bit of a lurch. There’s no JSF any time soon, and interim replacement platforms are simply seemingly not even on the menu for Israel to look at (F-15SE). None of it bodes particularly well when one considers the chorus of voices ever rising that the JSF simply ain’t that great in the 1st place..
The fighter is, and has been, plagued by delays, cost overruns, spats with allies, all underscored by the fact that the JSF isn’t that great of a jet. The Russian PAK-FA, which took to the skies this month, is already purported to be a superior air-to-air platform — though it won’t be fully operational for a few years. Moscow has no problem exporting their best gear to second and third world nations, and the Russians take particular delight in providing nations hostile to U.S. interests with advanced weaponry. Considering that proclivity to sell to bad guys, we could be facing the PAK-FA in air-to-air combat in under a decade.
So will we be ready? The F-35′s long list of failures is opening up some critical planning issues, problems that could end up critically degrading America’s abilities to fight and win wars a few miles down the road. The Obama administration is taking a colossal risk in canceling the F-22 program and sticking all their eggs in the Joint Strike Fighter basket. [...]
Did we screw the pooch on this one?
Israel faces much of the same, only we are more boxed in. We don’t have the minimum allocation of F-22s the USA has in stock & on order before the program runs its course. We may be looking at a few decades where our new superiority fighter (If it is ever delivered) is seemingly inferior to what our enemies can buy on the open market. That would be disastrous. The Obama administration maintains its claim that Israel’s military superiority is a top priority, while selling everything we have to the Gulf like it is going out of style.. In parallel we are being limited on purchases, a perfect storm.
One day we might have to call in the Cavalry
Americans who dislike Israel often claim they don’t want America fighting our wars for us. To date that has never been the case, and haters have just been blowing off steam. Going forward however, if we can’t get our hands on the best tech with the ability to customize it to our needs – Precisely the scenario now unfolding with the JSF contract, that may very well change. A situation which is just as unacceptable to us as it is to America.
It is dangerous entrusting our security to others, and only more so entrusting it to President Obama – His priorities simply lie elsewhere. Unfortunately for us, we sleep in the bed the American voters made.
1st In: Leading off what will surely be a long list of foreign purchase orders Israel tenders 25 Stealth JSFs (Updated Below)
Despite the JSF’s numerous next generation capabilities including stealth technologies, you could hear this F-35 order coming from a mile away. Well, 3 years at least.. That’s how long Israel has been talking about acquiring the new fighter about to roll off assembly lines. Another major chunk of the TEFEN procurement plan in the air has been filled. 25 conventional JSF fighters (A mode) with deliveries starting in 2014, and an option for 50 more in the form of VTOL versions of the multi-role fighter.
The JSF is a fine next generation platform, but this deal 3 years in the making, and with another 4 years in the waiting - comes less than 3 months after Israel’s smarting rejection for the American bird of prey, the F-22 Raptor. America already has 100 Raptors with US forces, new ones rolling off assembly lines would have been able to help Israel now, as opposed to in 2014.
Critical detail: Israeli electronics
Being amongst the first to receive the new fighter is certainly a score, but the back story on the remaining issue, the ability to install IAF electronics at the factory is the real nail bitter. The IAF routinely replaces large electronic components in its fighters as part of customization, radars sensors, displays etc. One of the prime benefits is the ability to work with other Israeli systems like armaments, fuel pods, air to air missiles which are also developed by Israel, as well as keeping the planes as superior as possible.
The F-16I SUFA, and F-15I Raam are prime examples of this customization, benefiting from Israeli options installed directly during manufacturing which is much cheaper than buying a fully decked plane and then replacing its systems – for obvious reasons. This important detail is still outstanding in the JSF talks
[...] Israel said it plans to buy a fleet of F-35s as it upgrades its military technology. The first batch of 25 would be the variant of F-35 designed for conventional take off from military airfields, but the later 50 could include a version that can land and take off vertically, similar to a helicopter.
If approved by Congress in the next 30 days, Israel will likely sign an official contract with the US Air Force in the coming months and begin receiving the aircraft in 2014.
While news of the Pentagon approval was positively received in the Defense Ministry, officials said it was still too early to celebrate since Israel has yet to receive final Pentagon approval to allow the IAF to install Israeli-made systems in the plane.
The result of the negotiations will be a determining factor in the number of aircraft Israel decides to purchase.
The technology issue was discussed last week between the IAF and a team of US military officers from the JSF Program who were in Israel. It also was at the focus of talks Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris held in Washington earlier this month.
Israeli demands include installing an advanced radar and conformal fuel tank design for long-range missions made by Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as other electronic and weapons systems that could require changes to the configuration of the aircraft.
“We have unique needs and need to retain our superiority in the region,” a senior defense official explained. “To meet these needs we must to be able to install our own systems.”
If Israel exercises the vertical option, it would be the first time that the IAF obtains this capability, needed out of fear that Israeli airfields would be paralyzed by enemy missiles in a future conflict and planes would have difficulty taking off in a conventional fashion. [...]
It isn’t specified whether a global look at replacing systems is being discussed, or the added benefit of being able to do so at the configuration stage. I suspect the latter, as the issue is complicated by the many countries and entities involved in the JSF project and this is where details could become more difficult to resolve, holding up the process. New funding directly aimed at sorting through & overcoming export hurdles was allocated to the JSF recently, maybe this will move things along.
Next Gen decisions
Customization will involve access to much more of the plane’s systems than just buying the aircraft outright which raises security issues. If the IAF can’t customize the fighter the climbing costs of the JSF may be hard to justify. Estimated at 50-60+ million each, limitations on Israeli systems & arms may put the ongoing associated costs - together with a climbing cost per plane, right out of the IAF budget’s reach. Making the plane not cost effective enough to purchase in any real quantity as an early replacement for older aging F-16s, could mean Israel is 1st in, but not all in with the JSF currently.
Late model F16s can carry as much as a non stealthed F35 and at much cheaper prices. Stealth will benefit the opening rounds of conflict greatly despite its weight / carrying limitations, at which point a non stealthy F35 armed up with bombs becomes a very agile F-16 of sorts . A number of stealthy JSFs added to much cheaper (15-20 Million dollars) late model F16s, or a mix of less JSFs and the addition of a theoretical squadron of F-22 Raptors is conceivable, maybe even preferential when when considers how widely sold the ‘stock F35′ will eventually be.
For now, it seems like 25 is the magic number, and there are hundreds yet to be built to fill the US Air Force & partner countries requirements first. Custom, cheaper and as a result superior Israeli F35 variants will be crucial to the JSF becoming Israel’s own fighter of the future. The JSF is a full conflict ahead, in the mean time Israel has got other worries.
UPDATE: Lockheed responds, tries to bridge gaps
The consummate sales work with billions on the line, Lockheed responded in Tel Aviv yesterday to concerns such as mine above, regarding the plane being so likely oversold & exported, and thus an even more pressing need for IAF customization. (JPOST)
“No other countries in this part of the world are in discussions,” Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin, told reporters in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Asked about Saudi Arabia, Burbage said there were no talks between Lockheed Martin and Riyadh regarding the plane.
Burbage also revealed that $200 million worth of contracts had been signed with Israeli defense companies involved in the development of systems related to the Joint Strike Fighter. He said this would likely increase to half a billion dollars by the end of the program. [...]
This isn’t Kansas
I’m a big fan of Lockheed, and Being too, and Raytheon etc etc. So I say this with love, the winning of some contracts to provide elements of the fighter is nice, but they were won irrespective of export considerations. The JSF program wanted helmet mounted visual sights, so it got Israeli companies to provide the helmets because Israel developed & employed the tech. This does not negate the legitimate request to customize the aircraft for Israel’s needs. I say that because Mr. Burbage is likely too often dealing with the JSF partners & partner countries, for whom winning local development & procurement / manufacturing contracts has been the number one barter & pressure component since the program began.
They threaten funding, number of planes sought, some even threatened to drop the program entirely.. But we are not in Kansas here or the UK for that matter. Israel is not seeking a few contracts, and I’m sure Burbage just wants to smooth over the road in case the Pentagon decides to not allow Israeli participation in customizing the F35 for its export needs, judging by the whopping 80 million each price tag - I don’t blame him for stressing in general. But this is about security for Israel, not a few design wins.
It won’t be long before Egypt, the Saudis and a few smaller gulf emirates want JSFs. It is in everyone’s best interests for Lockheed to lobby for adapting the JSF, not against. So far, judging by the tone - It suggests the opposite from the program director, meaning Israel’s difficult dealings with the Pentagon will continue.