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First F-16Is arrive in Israel (Read 1331 times)
 
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First F-16Is arrive in Israel
Feb 20th, 2004 at 4:36am
 
The first batch of the F-16I "Sufa" (storm) advance fighter bombers arrived in Israel Thursday afternoon, and were received at a ceremony attended by the Minister of Defense and the IDF's Chief of Staff.

The two aircraft took off from the Azures Islands and made their way towards the Ramon air base in the Negev.

Today's arrivals are the first of 102 aircrafts scheduled to arrive over the next 4 years in a deal valued at over $4.5 billion

Expectations are high for the expensive jet, which promises to dramatically boost Israel's long-arm reach.

When Israel signed the deal in 1999, Iraq was still a formidable power run by Saddam Hussein with alleged nuclear pretensions. Iran was quickly building long-range rockets and nuclear weapons and Libya was trying its best to purchase them. This has changed bringing into question the wisdom of purchasing three squadrons.

With the arrival of the 102 F-16Is, Israel will have a total of 362 of the jets – the largest fleet in any country in the world behind the United States. The F-16s are the backbone of the IAF, but these new "I" models will give added punch to the long-range capabilities of the IAF, and will complement the squadron of F-15Is Israel received at the end of the 1990s.

"This jet was built especially for us in Israel," said deputy
squadron commander Maj. Yonatan, but chuckled it did not mean you could fly with one arm hanging out of the cockpit.

"The jet will be able to fly far distances and refuel in-flight. It can fly at a very low altitude at night and not be detected. It has electronic warfare suites that know how to hide it," Maj. Yonatan told Army Radio Saturday. "It's not that large, but its quick and aggressive and smart."

The F-16Is are rolling off of the production line at Lockheed Martin's plant in Ft. Worth, Texas at a steady pace. They are being assembled next to F-16s for the United Arab Emirates and Greece.
The $4.5 billion dollar deal is the largest arms deal ever taken in the history of the state. Lockheed Martin won the tender, beating rival Boeing, in 1999 to supply the advanced fighter jets. The first one rolled off the assembly line last November.

In Texas, the pilots and ground crew of the new jets have undergone training in simulators.
"We have a lot to learn from the Americans," said Maj. Yonatan, deputy commander of the "Negev" squadron of the fighter/bombers. "We had instructors who flew in Vietnam and it was like your grandfather teaching you to fly."

The aircraft have been supplemented to Israel's specifications and are different from any other F-16, even in the service of the US Air Force. They are being paid for from the annual US military grant given to Israel, which this year stands at about $2.2 billion.

Maj. Yonatan was a young pilot chosen to help set up the initial squadron of F-15Is when they arrived here in the late 1990s. He had actually left the military and was working in London as a consultant when he was offered the post as deputy head of the new squadron.

Security regulations did not allow his full name to be released.

He said that the all-weather jet represents "a totally different thing" for the Israeli air force. The F-16I is not just another F-16, but a completely redesigned jet. It has an 820 non-refueling radius of operation.

It has a 52,000-pound take off weight, which means it can haul more weaponry than older F-16s. The dual seater has a pilot and weapons engineer who "flies the bombs" down to the targets once they are released.

The squadron is made up of veteran pilots who have already proven themselves in other jets.

The F-16I will be based in the Negev which is part of the overall plan by the IAF to "move southward"

From the Jerusalem Post
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