Lockheed Martin Awarded $206 Million to Prepare the F35A for the Israeli Avionics

A flight test of the Lockheed Martin F-35B with visible transonic flow, on April 19, 2012 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Photo: Lockheed Martin
A flight test of the Lockheed Martin F-35B with visible transonic flow, on April 19, 2012 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The Pentagon has reached an agreement with Lockheed Martin Corp on a $450 million program to enhance Electronic Warfare (EW) equipment on the F-35 fighter jet, and integrate Israeli-unique systems beginning in 2016, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, Reuters reported yesterday.

The first increment of that development worth $206 million was award to Lockheed martin by the US Navy Naval Air Systems Command, late August 2012. This contract modification covered the development process preparing for the integration of Israeli systems, from the initial requirements development to the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). Subsequent investments will cover post PDR hardware development, to continue through finalized requirements, layouts, and build to prints, including production planning data. This developmental phase is expected to be completed in May 2016. All the work will be performed in the USA, mainly at Fort Worth, Texas as well as in Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif. and Nashua, N.H.

This agreement will pave the way toward finalizing the contract details under negotiations between Israel and the US, since special adaptation of the aircraft were a key element in Israel’s agreement to buy 19 F-35 jets for $2.75 billion. Israel has signed the agreement in October 2010 but delayed the negotiation on further changes and adaptations. The original agreement announced in 2008 included options for up to 75 aircraft, representing up a total business of up to $15.2 billion, if all options are exercised.

Israel’s MOD and IDF are considering promoting the acquisition of a second squadron to the next multi-year program; Since most of the US military aid funding for these years is already committed to other programs (primarily F-35 and Namer AIFVs), committing to the second F-35 squadron means reducing the acquisition of Namer AIFVs from General Dynamics, a step that would cause significant financial impact on Israel’s own funding resources, since Israel is already committed to a multi-year buy of these vehicles, to be paid for from the annual US military aid funding – which will not cover termination or cancellation fees.

The agreement on Israeli version of the F-35 will allow Israel to install its own radio and datalink systems, as well as other equipment, on the F-35I models it is buying. Originally, stealth datalinks were an integral part of the F-35 mission system, restricting data communications within F-35s or specialized communication gateway systems. The need to better coordinate stealth and non-stealth operations and task the F-35 in future close support missions, particularly for the Marine Corps, required the introduction of conventional datalinks (LINK-16). In recent months the F-35 has tested Link-16 data-link, and will soon test the variable message format link, required for close air support missions. This enhancement has also opened the opportunity for the Israelis to equipped the stealth fighter with their own datalink communication. The current F-35 LINK-16 application is believed to be reserved for non-stealth missions only, thus retaining the fighter’s low-observable capabilities when operating in full stealth mode.

AAs an integral part of the F-35 Mission System, the MADL system developped by Harris includes six phased Array Antenna Assemblies (AAAs) and three Antenna Interface Units (AIUs).

Harris Multi-Function Advanced Data-Link (MADL) developed specifically for the F-35 provides a low-observable datalink enabling communications within F-35 formations and command and control elements. MADL uses six antennas providing spherical coverage around the aircraft. The MADL uses a Ku-band narrowband waveform employed in a “daisy chain” scheme – the first aircraft sends the directional signal to a second aircraft, then to a third aircraft, and so on. This waveform offers low-probability of intercept/low-probability of detection to evade detection by enemy SIGINT/EW systems. Originally, this waveform was exclusive to the F-35, but in the coming years this waveform is being integrated into other stealth platforms operated by the US military, to include the F-22A Raptor and B-2A bomber fleet. Since MADL is part of the F-35 Communications/Navigation/Identification (CNI System) mission system, Israel is expected to receive MADL, which will offer the IAF a datalink commonality with foreign air forces for the first time.

Israel has traditionally insisted on adding specific systems into platforms they procured from foreign sources, primarily the US. These enhancements were focused on the insertion of indiginous electronic warfare (EW) systems, command, control and communications (C3) and datalinks, as well as the integration of Israeli developed weapons. These systems also won significant export orders, as some were integrated into the baseline aircraft (F-16, F-15) and selected by foreign customers or the US military.

Israel has not been a founding member of the F-35 program but based on the order and options it has committed to, Israel is expecting to share about one billion US$ worth of buyback related to the F-35 program. The system integration deal currently in the making will allow an increased participation of Israeli industries in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Among the companies likely to join the work state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which will start building wings for the aircraft, and Elbit Systems’ subsidiary Elisra – the leading EW provider for the IAF. Elbit, in a joint venture with Rockwell Collins, makes the advanced helmet used by pilots on the single-seat F-35.