By Arie Egozi
Tel Aviv. Buy a new defence platform or upgrade an existing one? In recent years, many armed forces have faced this question more frequently. The question of whether to buy a new combat aircraft or an upgrade one that is in the inventory of an air force, is becoming more acute. This for two main reasons – the price of new fighter aircraft and the fact that the difference in combat capabilities, is made mostly by the systems not the airframe.
In Israel, this issue is now on the table, because of different views about the operational requirements of the Israeli Air Force. Some in the highest command, are confident that Israel needs more Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, while others claim that the need is for the new versions of the Boeing F-15IA (Israeli Advanced) which is similar to the X version. It seems now that both will be purchased. Israel already operates the F-35, but the IAF wants more than the 50 included in the signed contract.
Anyhow, if the F-15 is selected the IAF plans to upgrade its existing fleet of F-15 to the same avionic level of the IA. This dilemma will be decided in the near future, but it symbolizes an international dilemma that many air forces face – purchase new very expensive fighter aircraft or upgrade those in service.
And when it comes to upgrades, Israel has some offers that are being taken into account as an air force has to make the decision.
Rafael has recently presented a concept that according to the Israeli company, can upgrade a 4 generation fighter aircraft into what may be described as a 4.5 generation standard by upgrading its weapon systems.
According to a Rafael senior official recently the Indian Air Force has begun to deploy the Rafael BNET software defined radio on its combat aircraft. The senior official also said the Indian Air Force already uses the Rafael Derby MK-3 radar air-air missile.
In addition to the Indian LCA, the Swedish Grippen is also a platform that may be selected by the manufacturer or by users to carry the proposed Rafael advanced 4.5 generation suit.
Armed forces that operate utility helicopters and want to give them a combat capability, are showing interest in another Rafael upgrade plan, this time for helicopters. The plan is to equip utility helicopters with Standoff Precision Guided weapons, in that case the company’s Spike missiles.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is producing a huge variety of combat related systems. But this company has also identified the need of armed forces to extend the service life of some systems.
IAI has developed life extension programs for a number of widely used helicopters. The first offered program is an upgrade of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Negotiations are in progress with some operators. The upgrade includes structural upgrades and the installation of a new avionic suit found in very advanced helicopters.
One of the most successful upgrades performed by IAI, is based on the Kfir combat fighter aircraft that was made by the company.
The Kfir is an Israeli-built all-weather, multirole combat aircraft based on a modified French Dassault Mirage 5 airframe, with Israeli avionics.It served for more than 40 years in the Israeli Air Force and was exported to some countries. The basic design was upgraded but the most important upgrade program is the one that brought the old aircraft to the Block 60 status.
IAI has upgraded the Kfir fighter aircraft of the Colombian air force to the latest C-60 version. The new level of upgrade allows the Israeli made fighter aircraft to carry a large number of sensors and weapon systems.
The block 60 is offered by Israel aerospace industries (IAI) with J-79 engines with zero hours after a total overhaul and will need another one after 1600 flight hours. The upgraded fighter carries an Elta 2032 AESA radar and has an open architecture that allows the customer to install other systems.
The radar supports pulse doppler and two axes mono pulse guard channel. This according to Elta, provides all aspect, look-down shoot-down performance, operating simultaneous multi-mode air-to-air superiority and advanced strike missions.
The radar is based on solid-state, active phase array technology that gives it a longer detection range, and a multi-target tracking capability of up to 64 targets.
So upgrades programs have become in many cases a good substitute for the purchase of a new fixed wing or rotorcraft. Israeli companies are developing more such systems.
And sometimes, the willingness of a country to purchase upgraded fighter aircraft creates diplomatic wrestling between countries. This happened when Croatia agreed to purchase F-16 that were phased out by the Israeli Air Force. The U.S objected.
And as mentioned before, sometimes an air force wants to upgrade the most advanced platform. This is exactly what happens now in the IAF.
The Israeli Air Force recently received the special test F-35 TEST aircraft that was built by Lockheed Martin and it will be used to adapt the Israeli designed upgrades that are aimed at keeping the IAF’s qualitative edge in the Middle East.
-The writer is an International Roving Correspondent of the publication