The most advanced aircraft in the world, back in 2004
Aerial assaults, interceptions, and aerial photography are only part of the division’s missions
Two is better than one: A pilot and weapon systems operator on their way to an F-16I plane In February 2004, the first F-16I (known as “Sufa”, Hebrew for “Storm”) planes landed in Israel and have since made history: large-scale military operations, rich technology and diverse tasks in defending the skies of Israel. In honor of the first decade anniversary, IAF Site brings its readers five facts about the cutting edge of the IAF
Noa Fenigstein and Shir Cohen
1. Every F-16I cockpit holds two aircrew members
Every F-16I plane is equipped with two seats. In other words, the pilot and the weapon systems officer cooperate on every mission in the cockpit.
“We have become a leading component in the IAF”, says Lieutenant Colonel Amir, commander of the “Negev” squadron, the first F-16I squadron. “The force came to the understanding that the farthest, most important missions require two aircrew members”.
Additionally, the technology-intensive aircraft operations require an additional aircrew member to assist in executing the complex missions.
“The amount of information that gets to the cockpit of the F-16I requires an aircrew member who can analyze it and provide solutions in a short period of time – and that’s the weapon systems officer”, explains Major Omri, commanders of the “Advanced Stage” squadron in the combat navigation track of the flight school.
2. F-16I planes take part in all IAF military operations
Though the division is relatively new, over the past decade it has played a major role in many significant events in defense of Israel: The Second Lebanon War, Operation “Cast Lead” and Operation “Cloud Pillar”.
“It’s a plane from the F-16 family, which has taken the division to different places: long distances, night radar, target identification and overhead-display helmets”, says Brigadier General Amikam Norkin, Head of Air Division at IAF Headquarters, who was head of the founding aircrew of the division. “The whole package brought us a plane that really expanded the operational capabilities of the IAF”.
In 2012, the division added another item to its list of achievements when it intercepted a UAV for the first time in the skies above southern Israel.
3. F-16I planes perform aerial strikes, interceptions, aerial photography and more
Each of the F-16I squadrons in the force is responsible for a different type of activity: From aerial intelligence photography through attacks deep in enemy territory to the execution of secret tasks.
For example, the “One” squadron from the Ramon airbase, is responsible for the virtual training of the division. “A new era is upon us: A simulation system that allows us to design a huge variety of threats”, explains Major Itay, deputy commander of the squadron. “The fly becomes a lot more operational and challenging because of it. As far as I’m concerned, the experience is really similar to what happens on the operational battlefield and that way we come more prepared”.
4. One deal – two parts
At the end of the millennium, two companies competed for the contract for the force’s next advanced fighter jet: It was Lockheed Martin vs. Boeing.
In January, 2000, with the approval of the Prime Minister and the then Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, the arms deal was signed with airplane-giant, Lockheed Martin.
The transaction involved the purchase of 50 F-16I aircrafts at a total cost of $2.5 billion, with the option of purchasing an additional 60 fighter jets.
5. When the F-16I arrived in Israel, it was considered the most advanced aircraft in the world
F-16I planes are a part of the “I” division of planes, which also includes the F-15I. The letter “I” in the names stands for Israel and represents the Israeli systems installed in them.
“The systems with which the IAF’s F-16I planes are equipped carry out a variety of advanced capabilities”, said Yossi Ackerman, president of Elbit Systems in 2004. “The systems also reflect the longstanding cooperation between the IAF, Elbit and Lockheed Martin”.
The systems include, among other things, mission computers, an overhead-display system, digital maps and weapons computers-all of which gave the F-16I unprecedented capabilities and made it the most advanced plane in the world of aviation in the year 2004.