Stand-Off Precision Strike Or Stealthy Penetrating Aircraft; Israel Debates

CSBA’s whip smart strategist Jim Thomas contends that as precision targeting and guided weapons proliferate, both high-end and low-end wars will unfold in far less “permissive” operating environments. Battlefield advantage has swung back in favor of the defender, he says, with the further maturation of reconnaissance-strike networks warfare may be entering the “post-power projection era.”

The weapons acquisition choice, Thomas said, is either to go cheap and disposable, with drones, long range missiles and robots that can be thrown at an enemy’s missile magazines without much regret, or ultra-costly, high-end and stealthy and try to slyly maneuver your way past an enemy’s defenses.

A good example of that debate is going on right now in Israel as it considers whether to spend $2.7 billion for the first 19 of a larger planned buy of the stealthy fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, or, to upgrade the current fleet of attack jets with better sensors and very-long range guided missiles. Not to say that Israel’s current fleet of modified F-15s and F-16s are cheap and disposable, but as Aviation Week’s David Fulgham reports, some in the Israeli brass think hanging newer and more standoff missiles on the jet’s wings is smarter than spending so much on the platform itself.

“The [shrinking] force structure problem points us toward fewer, but more sophisticated platforms,” says Air Force Lt. Gen. Dani Halutz, former chief of the Israel Defense Force. “The F-35 fits this trend exactly. If its performance is as advertised, it will allow us to cope with a shrinking budget and force size.”

The counterpoint is offered by retired Army Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s national security council. His argument is that it makes more sense to pit salvoes of long-range air-launched guided missiles against an enemy’s air-defense missile magazines than a limited number of very prized platforms.

“If we continue to use the very advanced [versions of the] F-16 and F-15 and upgrade some of the systems, we could save so much money that we could buy other important systems like ground-based missiles. And you can use more [air-launched] standoff weapons because they have extreme precision and a very long effective range. You don’t have to put all your effort into the aircraft.”

I think this debate is just getting going as defense planners wrestle with flat or declining budgets, platform cost growth and the proliferation of relatively low-cost guided weaponry. It’s a debate I expect will take place in all three domains: maritime, air and on land.

— Greg Grant

  • Tony C

    The time of missile versus missile and our robots are better than your robots is upon us.
    Technology is increasingly replacing the man in the loop until the man is only there
    to watch the results. Artificial Intelligence is almost a reality and soon the UCAV,
    Unmanned Armored Vehicle, and Unmanned Submersible will be the weapon systesm of choice by the world’s armed forces.

  • John Moore

    What are those sholder pads the f-16 is wearing can anyone please tell me?

  • Rusty

    The “shoulder pads” are conformal fuel tanks. On the same subject, what is the weapons load out under the wings?

    • Marcase

      Typical ‘Iranian Nuke Reactor Special’ load-out – Amraams, Sidewinders, 2,000lb LGBs, extra fuel tanks and LANTIRN targeting/nav pods.

      This debate btw is something that is getting more attention in Europe as well. The JSF is a phenomenal plane, with a phenomenal pricetag. Pretty soon it won’t be a choice, but a necessity to focus on cheaper weapons vs expensive planes.

    • bill

      center fuel tank flanked by two pods probably a laser pointer and a defenseive counter measure pod, then two laser guided bombs (probably 1,000 pounders) then out board there are two heat seeking misssiles for defense

      • Dom

        Bill, Marcase is right the two pods on either side of the bottom fuel tank are LANTIRN (Low Altitude InfraRed for Night) Pods. The pod to the left of the tank is a Targeting pod that contains an infrared camera for finding targets and a laser designator to mark a target for Laser Gudided Bombs. The pod to the right of the tank is a Navigational Pod that contains an infrared camera and Terrain Following Radar that allows the Fighter to fly at very low levels in inclement weather so as to fly under the radar.

      • jhm

        Teh bombs are too large to be 1000, they are 2000, and the wingtip missiles are training missiles and not sidewinders. And your “pods” are the lantern targeting systems

  • A. Nonymous

    Conformal fuel tanks.

  • STemplar

    I think probably a blend of the two is what we need. I can see the need for some forward deployed stealthy assets. I don’t see the need for them in the air sovereignty mission. Stand off munitions would allow for arming a myriad of different platforms and increase the number of options an enemy would have to consider defending against us. I think if the F35s price tag either doesn’t stay where it is, or come down, you are going to see a reduced buy. Pretty much guarantees an increased emphasis on stand off. Of course that is already occurring to a certain extent with things like the NCADE idea, and the electric laser pod development in a B1 conformal pod.

  • SMSgt Mac

    If one is honest, there are only two factors to consider at the root of the problem in deciding whether or not to acquire survivable penetrating systems or standoff attack systems for use in a non-permissive environment. The first factor is whether or not you have a weapon in hand that can neutralize the aimpoints at a distance. Most standoff weapons do not have the punch for hardened targets. The second factor depends on the number of aimpoints one needs to hit balanced against the feasible attrition rate of the attacking systems. If you have a highly survivable platform to drop JDAMs or other precision weapons, directly instead of using TLAM Tomahawks for example, the cost savings is equal to about 8 F-35s (at LMs pessimistic $ estimate) for every 1000 aimpoints attacked. That is assuming the standoff attack is just as effective (100%) as direct attack, which it has consistently proven NOT to be.

  • Sam

    Let’s hope that the Arab nations develop a first strike capability that can wipe out the Israeli air force before it has a chance to once again target Arab civilians and infrastructure.

    • Krieg

      You conveniently forgot the part where those first capabilities (rockets, mortars, artillery etc) have time & time again been used to target Israeli during declared ‘cease fires’ for the past several decades.

      • Sam

        Give me an example.

    • yesjb

      Lets hope you grow a brain!
      Thanks for the inversion of history!

    • timmyaki

      Israel blockaded Gaza because it was firing missles into its cities. Their was also a recent shot fired from Gaza a couple weeks ago inspite of the blockade.

      Im sure the U.S. Israel, and the EU would get along with the arab nations just fine if they stopped greeting eachother “Death to America Death to Israel”

    • dan nurnberger

      POOR LITTLE SAMMY IS OBLIVIOUS TO WHATS SHAKIN IN THE MIDDLE EAST,TO EVEN SUGGEST THAT ONE WANTS THE RAGHEADS TO OVERPOWER ISRAEL IS TREASON,YOU SONNY ARE IMBECILIC WITH THAT TRAIN OF THOUGHT(ARE YOU ANTI-AMERICAN?)DONT GET TO HOT UNDER THE COLLAR SONNY,LOL

    • HAROLD SALISBURY

      SAM: YOU ARE A BIGGET AND AN ANTI SEMITE AND EFIDENTLY HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THE MIDDLE EAST WELL I HAVE AND IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE YOU ALSO DO NOT LIKE YOUR OWN COUNTRY. WELL I HAVE 2 WORDS FOR YOU. MOVE OUT!

  • gt350

    Nato should –and Israeli should have the F-22, The BEST plane that is still made for now! ( A Ferrari is not cheap and nether is winning) and if we cant trust those nations by now —its game over and thats not public politics.

  • Krieg

    Giving the F-22 to Israel means transferring that tech to China. No thank you.

    • Amen. F-22 tech should go NOWHERE.

    • dan nurnberger

      PLEASE ELABORATE KRIEG,,THE CLINTONIANS GAVE UP INFO TO THE ZIPPERHEADS AGREED,,,BUT HOW WOULD ISRAEL,THX FOR YOUR INPUT

  • david

    I agree with your Krieg. Not only that but Israel doesn’t need the F-22 anyways even if they could afford them and not give the tech away to our enemies. If Israel was smart they would buy the EF2000 with the active array and long range meteor missile.A much better air defense aircraft than the F-15Cs they currently have. Oh yea, they can’t because Europe will not give them to Israel for free like the US does. Oh well. Back to upgrading your F-15s and F-16s.

  • blight1

    The only problem that remains in this drone versus manned aircraft argument is that one way or another guided missiles are cheaper than either. Perhaps this means the only way through is by land, since you can only lay so many IEDs in such-and-such timeframe.

  • yesjb

    Here we go again…all the usual suspects…Jew haters and Jew baiters galore!
    Israel steals this Israel steals that…blah blah blah
    You pathetic little no-nothings wouldn’t know the truth if it jumped up and bit you on the ass!
    Evey discussion degenerates into the same tiresome ******** rants against Israel without an f’n clue about what’s really going on.
    Just reflects what going on in your government and even military leaders.
    You’ll soon have your hands full right in the good ol’ USA when enough Hezb’ballah get smuggled in from Mexico and start blowing up your cities. Then the likes of Sam (or is it Sami?) can always blame the Jews!

  • Shamir

    Whatever Israel wants the world must give them. Not sure why though….

    • I guess some see what they want to see, Samir. Or is it Ahmed?

      We want the Jihadi imperialists and their racist retrograde islamo-nazi ideology dead. Been waiting, and waiting, and waiting,..
      In the mean time, the anglo-american imperialist swines have been funding and defending the islamo-nazis to the tune of trillions.

  • Vitor

    I love how americans babble about “we must not let our techs leak to the chinese!”, and have no problem to owe a lot of money to the same chinese, and that is way more destructive than any bomb or plane.

    • dan nurnberger

      HEY VITOR,,IM AN AMERICAN AND ID DEBATE YOU IN A NY MINUTE,ACTUALLY ITS THE SNIVVELING 3RD WORLD COUNTRIES THAT WE HELP THAT ARE THE PROBLEM(INCLUDING A FEW OTHER POS COUNTRIES AS WELL)NOT SURE IF YOU ARE PRO OR ANTI-AMERICAN BUT YOU SURE SOUND LKE YOU ARE ANTI

    • William C.

      Except money is merely printed paper. That technology is countless man-hours of work, effort, and investment.

    • Blight

      dollar bills can’t drop bombs. also in wartime I suspect the us would default on Chinese debts to damage their economy. Refusing to pay is almost as bad as being in debt.

  • sid

    Vitor – so the US shouldn’t allow China to buy US bonds? Ever heard of a free market economy?

  • Vitor

    sid – LOL @ a State stimulating a whole country to get in debt because the FED can print magical dollars being, imposing an artificially low interest rate and bailing out any company with a big enogh lobby being a free market economy.

  • dan nurnberger

    IMHO ISRAEL SHOULD BEEF UP AND DESTROY ALL RAGHEAD,COMMIE NATIONS…SOMEBODY HAS TO DO IT,,LORD KNOWS OBAMA AND HIS SISSIES AINT

  • dan nurnberger

    ANYBODY WHO VOTED FOR THE BAFOON(AL-QAEDA OPERATIVE)BARAK OBAMA SHOULD BE DEPORTED FOR TREASON, THATS RIGHT BARRY I SAID IT,BLUE GUM CHUMP,I AND MANY OTHERS KNOW YOU ARE A COMMIE,WHY DO YOU SPEAK DAILY WITH THE COMMIE ILK,,,BET CHAVEZ HAS YOUR CELL# ON SPEED DIAL..LIBS ARE THE DOWN FASLL OF THIS NATION AS IS THE MEDIA(MARK MY WORDS ALL YOU EINSTENS

  • Vstress

    Surely it’s not as simple as saying we can replace use the aircraft for X more years. These airframes that the IDF have are already quite old and have a high numbers of years on them!

    The reason such an argument that they don’t need to buy new equipment is because of the fact that last time they bought it, it was so far advanced in technology. Therefore if you don’t buy advanced technology, there will be a time in the near future where you will be pushed up against the wall due to a new development in missile technology on the enemy side.

    If they buy the F-35 it will last as long as the F-16 has.

    To me personally it’s a good investment.

  • dan nurnberger

    NOW IF I COULD TYPE AS WELL AS I THINK ID START A BLOG,LOL…HEY SHAR AND VITOR DONT GET YOUR PANTIES IN A BIND(BET YOU GUYS WANNA BUY ME A BEER NOW LOL) SORRY I DONT DRINK WITH COMMIES,ONLY GRADE A AMERICANS

  • Mr B

    One thing that the F-35, with the VTOL option, could provide is it would allow Israel to operate a small aircraft carrier. This would put some aircraft out of rocket range and may also be needed for a strike on Iran, to avoid any overflight issues.

  • Mystick

    That’s a lot of fuel… I see five externals on there. IAF sure doesn’t need to carry that much around for a precision strike loadout…. with that much fuel, that F-16 could probably fly to Britain with some to spare. Seems like that’s one of them ‘nuclear plant in Iran’-busting planes.

  • Matt Musson

    We beat the Greman Air Force in WWII even though they had better technology.

    We had good enough technology that overwhelmed them.

    • Yeah. The problem is that the U.S. is becoming Germany. There is not a chance in hell that we are going to actually purchase 2,000+ F-35s. Plentiful drones lead by a core air force of top-tier manned fighter aircraft are the future.

  • Aircraft carriers are not something that you just work up in two years like a fighter wing. They are prohibitively expensive, take several years to build, and require a substantial supporting industry of shipbuilding and R&D..

    • blight

      The US could sell Israel a carrier or an amphibious vessel. Suffice to say, a lot of people will get mad.

  • Jay

    Israel invented and first used the modern UAV, and our designs are based on their tech.
    However, while the sophistication of UAVs is increasing, they are still not nearly as capable as manned fighters and nowhere near as effective in air to air. The IDF air force knows that they have to establish air supremacy ASAP as they did in 67 and 73 – and you do that by destroying theother guy’s fighters.

    Until we get a drone up which is fast, maneuverable, and spits AMRAAMs we need expensive fighters to shape the battlespace and ensure air superiority.

  • Cannon Fodder

    Islam is like the Borg from Star Trek. They will not stop “assimulating” until first Israel is gone, then the US and other European countries. Their goal is to convert the world to Islam by force or choice. Wake up people.

    It is sad too that many have believed the Borg trash spoken against Israel, when Israel is just trying to survive. Israel is one of the few countries that is willing to stand up against the Borg, even though they are outnumbered and surrounded.

    Israel needs to strike Iran before they get a nuke, because they will use it. Obamma doesn’t really care if Iran gets a nuke or not, so he is dragging his feet. Israel can not wait.

    • Yours is the best illustration I seen on this board of Islam. Borg-No ****! when at Central Command we would debate where the first strike was to be in a war to conquer Islam. After months of computer modeling and Brainstorming sessions, we came up with a first strike by the full force of the USA would be needed in Washington DC when congress is in session.

  • HAROLD SALISBURY

    ONCE AGIAN SAM OLD BOY I HAVE BEEN TO ISREAL AND THEY ARE GOOD PEOPLE AND THE UN CHARTER GAVE ATONAMY TO BOTH ISREAL AND THE PALISTINIANS BUT THE ARABS REJECTED IT AND A DAY LATER THE ARAB COUNTRIES INVADED ISREAL NOW TELL ME WHO WANTS PEACE THE ISREALIS OR THE ARABS

  • HAROLD SALISBURY

    AND AS FOR AUSTRALIA BEING WITH US IN EVERY CONFLICT SINCE WW1 WELL YES BUT ISREAL HAS BEEN IN A NEVER ENDING WAR SINCE 1948. AND NO COUNTRY AS OF TODAY WOULD SEND TROOPS TO FIGHT ALONG SIDE WITH ISREAL IN ANY OF ITS WARS OR CONFLICTS. TAKE THAT TO THE BANK!

  • Brad

    I have not seen one post addressing F-15 and F-16 airframe costs.

    It seems to me that the IAF will opt for the F-35 not just because of enhanced airspace penetration capability but the simple fact that F-15 and F-16 airframes are getting quite old. In the end it won’t matter whether the IAF’s current airfleet of highly advanced F-15s and F-16s are upgraded with new capabilities or not. The airframes will be to costly to maintain. It’s that simple. Unlike steel, aluminum fissures and cracks under repeated stress and loads. X-Rays and routine frame maintenance therefore become very expensive and consume precious man-hour resources. New airframes must purchased because it is more cost effective to do so. Israel will purchase F-35s. Count on it!