At the Nevatim airbase in the Negev, people were working assiduously yesterday. In exactly a fortnight on December 12 at 2 PM, two superplanes, or "planes of the future" as they are called in the IAF, will land here. Their numbers will be 901 and 902. The planes will make history in the Airforce "for the next forty years," claim IAF sources.
"The F-35 (or in Hebrew, the "Adir") is not just another plane," says a senior IDF official. "This is something we hadn't known until today and won't be seeing in the near future. If, until now, we were in the third or fourth generation of planes, this one is not only a fifth generation plane - it is a leap of many generations forward. There is no plane with such capabilities in the world, and Israel will be the first country in the world to have such an advanced plane in operational use."
Lieutenant Colonel Yotam, the Squadron leader of the F-35 planes who was involved in upgrading the F-16 "Sufah" planes, says that the plane's avionic capabilities, as well as the amount and quality of it's sensors, place it in a class of its own:
"We are absorbing a plane which is at the top of its class technologically. From a technology perspective,this is not something that can happen in one day. We are now doing a critical appraisal of the plane, uncovering everything about it, even small things, that we can and will correct. We, as the professional body involved in this, are very happy with this process.
"I cannot speak about specific capabilities of the plan, but I can say that it will provide a clear picture of the battlefield in real time in every arena in which it is deployed and, by virtue of its stealth capabilities, we will be able to both gather intelligence and attack. This aircraft will be extremely effective in the battlefield."
Just this week the cabinet decided to purchase 17 more similar planes; in all, at the end of the process, the State of Israel will own 50 such planes.
In order to understand how significant this plane is for the IAF, air force officials state that "if in a regular attack on targets which are distant or even nearby we required an entire squadron of 25 planes in order to attack ground missiles protecting the target, protect the other planes, refuel and perform the mission, with the capabilities of the new aircraft we can do all this with just 4 or 5 planes.
"This plane can protect itself, hit the most advanced ground missiles, stay for a long time in the air, and has tremendous firepower."
Another senior official said that "the fact that it is very difficult to locate due to its unique build, and can gather information as well as attack, and its ability to analyze the information quickly and efficiently, place it in another class of plane."
Brigadier General Tal Kalman, the Air Force Chief of Staff said that "we have organized a professional team for adapting and absorbing the aircraft. Due to the nature of the plane and its capabilities, it will take more time to adapt and integrate than with other aircraft, but we expect this process to take a year."
At present, the training center for the plane has trained four instructors who will be able to train pilots effectively without spending too many hours in the air, which will save money and prevent aircraft erosion as well as allow the optimal conditions for studying, according to the officer in charge of the training faculty.
Lieutenant Colonel Yotam adds that "we know from experience that integrating such advanced technology is complicated and time-consuming, but I'm confident that regarding the F-35 - the Adir, we will in a few years have an entirely different picture of our capabilities.
With its airborne intelligence gathering capabilities, I'm confident that we will be able to more easily distinguish what intelligence is important and what needs to be used and shared with others."
Everything here is top secret and conducted in full cooperation with the Americans, who provided details on every topic. When the planes are fully operational in 2019, they will contain both American systems as well as advanced Israeli communication and computer systems, which will enable electronic warfare.
The planes are also comparatively cheap, costing 98 million dollars as opposed to the F-15, which cost 110 million dollars.