by S. Fred Singer
The first battle test is over, and the results have strategic implications.
As an avid reader of Aviation Week, I became interested in the F-35, the newest Department of Defense fighter plane. The DOD had sold nine initial units to our ally Israel. I thought it was a wise decision for three reasons:
1. It provided actual testing for the new aircraft under realistic battle conditions. Aviation Week noted that Israel used several of its F-35s to attack more than 50 Iranian military installations in Syria. All these were presumably protected by the Russian-built Anti-Aircraft system S-300. Their latest design with more powerful radars, is being sold worldwide. Israel had a chance to study an earlier version, sold to Cyprus.
The F-35 attack was completed in less than 90 minutes, a notable achievement in military intelligence, as well as in operational planning and coordination.
Aviation Week didn’t tell us how many F-35s took part in the operation, and whether they returned safely; presumably they all did. Aviation Week did not reveal the tricks Israeli pilots used to evade the S-300 AA system.
2. A [June 5, 2018] Report of the Government Accountability Office [GAO] is quite critical of the F-35 joint strike fighter-bomber. Many experts doubt the viability of the aircraft to meet the various requirements of all the DOD services. In particular, the Report criticizes the design of the helmet-mounted display that presents the necessary operational data to aid the pilot.
In other words, while the aircraft itself provides propulsion and carries the required air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, the electronics, associated with the helmet, represents the “brain” of the F-35.
It so happens that Israeli engineers have much experience in this field, following the design of the IAF [Israel Air Force] Lavie fighter [that was never built.] Apparently, the DOD expects that some of the design experience for the display will be carried over to the F-35.
3. Finally, allowing the F-35 to be sold now lowers the huge procurement cost for the DOD, about 400 billion dollars. The buy-decision is due in October 2019.
In the wake of the successful air strike, what will Russia do now? Obviously, there will be some redesign and improvement of the Russian S-300 system to make it saleable to “non-captive” customers.
F-35 (photo credit USAF)
But beyond this, Russia is likely to not become involved further in the mess in Syria. This seems to be the outcome also of the recent Helsinki summit between Trump and Putin. The Pan-Arab paper Al-Hayat, published in London, even suggests that Russia may not object to Israel "clipping the wings" of the Iranian Eagle.
Writing in Ha’aretz, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, himself chief designer of the Lavie fighter, believes that Russia will not want to tangle with Israel, in view of its demonstrated technological superiority.
After all, Israel could easily destroy the Russian-built plutonium reactor at Arak, Iran, after getting permission to overfly Saudi Arabia. (Plutonium is the second way to build a nuclear weapon; Iran apparently has decided to go the route of the enriched Uranium-235. The U.S. used both methods in WW II.)
The Russian naval base at Latakia, Syria, is within easy range. The Russians have deployed a more advanced S-400 system to protect Latakia and other installations, which they claim can take down stealth fighters such as the F-35 at a range of over 150 miles. The S-400 failed to respond to the April 14, 2018 missile strikes by U.S., British, and French forces, leading some observers to conclude that the system was overrated.
I might add that Latakia and the main Russian naval base on the Crimean peninsula outflank Turkey and thus would discourage it from bottling up the Russian Black-Sea fleet.
S. Fred Singer
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