What’s the F-uss with F-35?
It’s time to weigh in about the F-35 next-gen fighter that may or may not be sold to the United Arab Emirates. That may or may not be sold to Qatar. That may or may not be sold to Turkey.
Here are some random thoughts.
Let me confess to a Ronald Reagan moment that led me to writing this post. The former POTUS, at least once, referenced a scene in a movie as a historical fact. I almost did the same. Fortunately I fact-checked before posting.
So, let me admit the ‘event’ that inspired me to this post came from the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker. So it may even have happened. The moral is the same if it was fiction.
American troops in Afghanistan came under Taliban attack. They silenced it with modern hi-tech weaponry to great applause.
General Hollanek : Jesus, you have got to be shitting me. You just shot a Javelin… at a fucking car. That’s an eighty thousand dollar piece of ordnance. Can any of you geniuses tell be the Kelly Blue Book value of an 1989 Toyota pickup?
Does it really require an almost $100 million piece of machinery to flatten a building from which a mortar was launched against Kibbutz Sa’ad because unless Israel goes to war against Iran that will be its day-to-day mission?†
During Israel’s last two full-scale wars against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon the country was inconvenienced and partly paralyzed by cheap, unguided rockets and mortars in very large numbers.
Fortunately for Israel, the North and the South are sparsely populated and most Israelis lived out of range of most that was fired at them. Warning sirens, bomb shelters in every building and since 1991 every new apartment and many of the residents moving out helped greatly.
Although we like to credit our own piece of hi-tech wizardry. the Iron Dome, for our protection the reality is we were protected as much by the limitations of our enemies’ main armaments. Most of the munitions fired at us were short range and aimed by pointing in the approximate direction of a population centre.
If gossip is correct both Hamas and Hezbollah aimed with the aid of Google Maps and possibly some fairly simple ballistic mathematics. Also Hamas had no way to check, in real time, where the rocket had landed and adjust their aim for a second or third attempt.
That combined with generally uneven (generally described in the MSM as homemade) engineering meant that many of the projectiles fell in fields; an astonishing amount (estimated at one in ten) fell short and even those that did damage mostly missed military targets.
When, rather than if, the Iranians or others develop relatively cheap missiles capable of hitting a specific target it will be a game changer.
Is the age of hideously expensive aircraft coming to an end?
Similarly with the F-35. Theoretically it is a stealth machine and undetectable but how long before a response is created or competitors produce a similar but way cheaper model?
Its real weakness is not in the air. It is on the ground with runways, control towers, hangers, approach roads, training facilities, fuel storage, etc. Remember the entirely adequate Kuwaiti airforce (Combat Aircraft: Mirage F1CK, Lightning F.53K, Hunter FGA.57, A-4KU Skyhawk) was neutralised in two days when Iraq captured the airbases. 80% had to escape, some by using roads as runways.
Immobile airbases, whose position can easily be ascertained by most Internet mapping applications, are a weakness. The scenario of planes unable to take-off or land because accurate, medium-to-long range, guided missiles have damaged the runways must be considered.
What scares Israel about the Emirates acquiring F-35s?
In the early eighties Ronald Reagan announced he was selling AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia. This was opposed by most Americans, much of Congress and hardly surprisingly by AIPAC and Israel.
Despite this opposition, what was then America’s largest arms sale proceeded and five E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft and eight KE-3 refueling aircraft, with spare parts and support, delivered between June 1986 and September 1987.
So, what happened with the AWACS?
They were never used against us and we don’t know, and hopefully will never know, whether the Saudi use of their hi-tech weapons would have been more effective than the Kuwaitis with their’s. As to the secrets of the planes, once again, as far as we know, they have not been sold or given to our enemies, as feared.
We don’t wish to debate whether Prime Minister Netanyahu:
- directly agreed that the Emirates should be allowed the F-35
- agreed by a nod and a wink or
- decided post–announcement so as not to undercut the American president.
Nor will we consider the propriety of making decisions 1), 2) or 3) without informing his Defence Minister. But it is fair to consider whether the fears are necessarily justified.
Keeping with taking blog inspiration from movies. Do you remember the Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More?
Clint Eastwood faced off against Lee Van Cleef in what was essentially a ‘pissing contest’. Eastwood blasted Van Cleef’s hat a few times until out of range. Van Cleef responded with his ‘hi-tech’ pistol and shoots Eastwood’s hat.
The movie would have them becoming friends but the hard reality is that Van Cleef would have been dead long before he had the chance to unleash his technological advantage.
Similarly with F-35s in Emirati hands. Victory in aerial combat is not simply about more advanced tech. It includes the quality and experience of the pilots, their training, strategy and tactics, support from the ground, from allies and from other aerial units and military intelligence. Above all, whoever shoots first has a considerable advantage.
Besides Israel will fit its own electronics in their F-35s. It should be a better plane than whatever the Arabs receive.
Shoshan Bryen made the point and I agree that whenever technology is provided to a foreign customer there is the possibility that it will fall into enemy hands. Even onshore, industrial and military espionage is a thing and neither Israel nor America has been immune in the past.
Frankly, I am far more concerned about Qatar procuring the planes than if the Emirates add them to their armoury. What about Turkey?
Reading reviews on the F-35 it is hard not to come to the conclusion that while it is the best available it is not a paradigm shift in air warfare. It is very versatile but super expensive. Like a Swiss Army Knife it has many tools but ultimately for each job a dedicated tool does it better.
Although unconfirmed, there are reports that Israel will be allowed to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. This stealth ‘air dominance fighter’ apparently excels in those areas where the T-35 is shaky. That combined with bunker busting bombs and access to satellite intelligence will make a complete package, if indeed this is not wishful thinking or the next administration doesn’t change its mind.
Exactly how much Israel has to pay for her own F‑35s is probably a state secret but these figures will give a rough idea.
The F-35 currently costs about $94 million (F-35A) for a low-rate initial production run. The cost per hour of operating the F-35 averages $30,000 compared to $25,500 per hour for the older F-16.
Add to that any Israeli developed additions and further expenses on training, simulators, spare parts and the building of maintenance infrastructure. Subtract from that any profits from industrial participation with America.
What ever way you slice it that’s a whole lot of green.
- Su-35 or F-35: what choice will Turkey make?, Ilyaros, Military Review, 4 December 2019
- Jordanian Cartoonist Arrested Over ‘Offensive’ UAE Drawing, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, Courthouse News Service. 27 August 2020
- US Air Force officially buying Turkey’s F-35, Michael Hernandez, AA, 21 July 2020
- Israel will not oppose US sale of F-35s to UAE, Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, 24 October 2020
- What Was That About F-35s? Demystifying Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge with Shoshana Bryen, Middle East Forum, 31 October 2020
† I am way outside my expertise now but mightn’t it be a good idea for Israel to buy up cheap ‘obsolete’ Warthog planes AKA Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II for duties much closer to home, like Gaza or the Hezbollah in Lebanon, with limited air defence systems?