Tightening its control around the Lockheed Martin-manufactured F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, the US Pentagon is scrutinizing and nitpicking the pilots who can access and fly the aircraft in Israel.
The Jerusalem Post reported the US Defense Department and intelligence agencies had forbidden Israel Air Force (IAF) pilots with foreign passports from operating F-35 fighter jets to prevent data security and technological leaks.
The report in Israeli media stated that the decision taken by the US is the result of an increased emphasis on information security and the protection of American interests. Citing unnamed sources, the publication stated that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) agreed to this requirement and stopped assigning pilots to F-35 Adir aircraft.
While no inter-relation has been established, the US decision to restrict foreign-origin pilots from flying the F-35 comes after China was accused of recruiting veteran Western pilots to train the PLA Air Force fighter pilots.
According to official documents, legal filings, emails, and people familiar with the situation examined last year, China’s military was seeking to recruit experienced Western pilots into a program that aimed to improve its capability to fly planes from aircraft carriers.
The program entailed close cooperation between China and a South African flight academy that hired former military pilots with experience in fields where China’s military trails behind Western equivalents. Pilots from the UK, the US, and Australia came under the scanner when the revelations were made.
Australian pilot Daniel Duggan, a former US Marine Corps aviator, is accused of violating American arms control regulations by teaching Chinese fighter pilots how to land on aircraft carriers, according to an indictment made public by a US court last month. The pilot was arrested and is being extradited to the US.
The sensitivity surrounding US fighter jets, especially a fifth-generation fighter jet, may have warranted such a decision by the United States. Israel is one of the closest US allies and was the first to select the F-35 through the United States government’s Foreign Military Sales process.
The US has traditionally been wary of its military secrets being leaked to hostile countries, especially in the case of the most advanced fighter jet in the world that would most likely be deployed in case of a conflict involving the United States. Regarding technology and some of the critical aspects of the F-35, the US Department of Defense and program contractors have remained tight-lipped.
For instance, exact details about the F-35’s electronic warfare capabilities are hard to find. This is precisely why when it was discovered last year that the turbomachine of the F-35 was using an alloy made in China, the deliveries were halted, and a detailed investigation was launched.
The F-35 Adir has remained in the limelight recently for several reasons. Israel has often flaunted the aircraft to signal to its regional adversaries that a bombing may be possible if the red lines are breached.
Israel’s F-35 Adir Fighter Jet
The F-35-I also called Adir (The Mighty One), is a heavily modified version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet. The single-seater Adir fighter jet is a stealth aircraft with various capabilities, including attack and intelligence gathering. It is also the only fighter jet with space for storing weapons that cannot be tracked.
The aircraft has a range of 2,200 kilometers and can fly at a top speed of Mach 1.6. Israel has already purchased 50 of these aircraft from the US, with the potential to buy 25 more in the future. According to reports, the IAF will have three active aircraft squadrons within a decade.
The IAF has reportedly introduced a brand-new one-ton bomb to the F-35s’ arsenal of weaponry, which can be positioned inside the aircraft’s internal weapons chamber without affecting the stealth radar signal of the plane.
Compared to American jets, this model is said to have many additional features. The Israeli Air Force can modify them from the outside, and one of these modifications consists of conformal fuel tanks, which significantly close the aircraft’s critical short-range capability gap. The IAF has also reportedly carried out some extensive upgrades to extend the range of the fighter without mid-air refueling.
The United States decided to filter F-35 Adir pilots just days after the two countries conducted the multi-day joint military drills in Southern Israel. The exercises were joined by the IAF’s F-35 fighter jets and US Central Command’s F-15 fighters and saw the F-35 simulating attacks on targets “deep inside” enemy territory.
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