It appears Israel has reached agreement with Lockheed Martin which will allow Israel's own electronic warfare (EW) equipment on the F-35.
The original F-35I agreement announced in 2008 included options for up to 75 aircraft, representing a total of up to $15.2 billion. Israel is considering including the addition of a second squadron in the upcoming multiyear acquisition budget, although the option is being weighed against other Israel Defense Forces priorities. Until this latest agreement was struck, long-term planning remained frozen. But the Israelis were recently told that the flyaway cost of the second F-35 squadron will be lower than the first.
Why was that an issue? The IAF and Israel have different priorities and needs than NATO and our allies. Interoperability among allies, for instance isn’t as big of a concern with Israel as it is with our partners. And this is nothing unusual for Israel:
Israel has always insisted on adding specific systems into the platforms it procures from foreign sources. On U.S. fighter aircraft, these enhancements were focused on the insertion of indigenous EW systems; command, control and communications; data links; and integration of Israeli-developed weapons. These Israeli changes have garnered significant export orders, and some—such as the Litening advanced targeting pod—were integrated into USAF and Marine fighters including the F-16, F-15, AV-8B, A-10, F/A-18 and B-52.
Still, the Israeli EW deal was hard-fought, for a reason. Enabling JSF customers to include theater-specific threat libraries or a repertoire of jamming/countermeasure techniques, or issue frequent updates to these systems, requires a special approach compared with legacy, conventional EW systems. In the past, specific upgrades were issued to EW systems, which were kept separate from other avionics, thus enabling such changes.
In the F-35, all core avionics are integrated and fused; therefore, accessing part of the system requires integration with all associated systems. Having different air forces using different versions of core avionics would render such integration more complex and costly.
The avionic architecture of the F-35 solved this by introducing two separate integration levels. Customers can access the high level, introducing country-specific services, libraries or updates on their own, outside the aircraft software-upgrade cycles. The lower level is proprietary to the U.S. Joint Program Office and accessible only by Lockheed Martin. This level manages flight and mission-critical services, including flight controls, CNI and display, sensor management and self-protection. It also relates to the sensitive low-observable envelope of the F-35, an issue passionately guarded by the U.S.
So there’s your answer as to why this deal was eventually reached. It again demonstrates the flexibility built into the avionics design of the F-35.
And as has been mentioned before, Israel is not an armed force that takes its aviation acquisitions lightly. If the F-35 was the “flying piano” some of the critics would have you believe, it would be a solid bet that there’d be nothing like the F-35I in the works right now.