TEL AVIV, Israel — Parliamentary findings released Monday on long-term planning within the Israeli military validated the nation’s need for 50 F-35 Adir fighter jets, yet urged a comprehensive review of alternatives — including drones and “other sources of precision fire” — before a government decision to purchase another 25 to 50 aircraft, as requested by the Israeli Air Force.
“The Adir is not just another platform, but brings new capabilities to the battlefield due to its stealth,” members of a parliamentary subcommittee found following a two-year review of the Israel Defense Forces‘ multiyear organization and spending plan.
In a section devoted to the Air Force, lawmakers noted that the F-35, “with all the existing limitations and against anti-aircraft missiles projected in the future, returns the Israel Air Force, through proper planning and with the recognition of its vulnerability points, to a capability for ‘stand-in’ operations.”
While lawmakers endorsed the government’s recent actions to acquire another 17 aircraft and thereby ensure two full stealth squadrons for the Air Force, they insisted follow-on purchases must be assessed in terms of how they contribute to national defense policy relative to alternatives.
Israel finalized last month an agreement with the U.S. government and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin for another 17 planes. It was the third tranche of F-35 contracts, following an order for 19 aircraft in 2010 and another 14 F-35s in 2015.
“This does not detract from the vast professionalism of the Israel Air Force, but we cannot ignore the need to meticulously assess the face of the future, especially with regard to air combat platforms, which are so expensive, critical and [subject to] rapidly changing technologies,” subcommittee authors wrote.
Lawmakers said they intended to exercise their oversight role through a series of hearings on air-power alternatives aimed at influencing the IDF’s next five-year plan following the current plan, “Gideon,” which ends in 2020.
“The Committee will assess in depth ... the issue of Israeli rocket capabilities, and the potential for realistic and significant alternatives to the aerial option. The committee reasons that despite the proven capability of the Israel Air Force, it must seriously assess alternatives given future challenges and threats to the Air Force‘s ability to operate in any theater and under any conditions.”
Findings on the F-35 were just a small part of a special report published Sept. 25 by the subcommittee, which falls under the purview of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The subcommittee is charged with oversight of defense policy and force structure.
The 30-page report, only published in Hebrew, is a product of dozens of hearings, on-site inspections and meetings over a two-year period. It repeatedly faults the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership deficiencies and failure to codify a clear defense policy and national security goals as guidelines for long-term military planning.
“The IDF‘s multiyear plan is designed almost entirely from ‘the bottom up‘ ... through staff work of the military itself without a national defense policy approved and known to the government of Israel and without an operational concept that was drafted and approved by the political level to guide IDF actions,” lawmakers wrote.
“An army that plans for itself has a tendency to focus on projects and technologies, and not on balancing them against a clear policy of what they are supposed to achieve and how. This is the responsibility of the political echelon.“
The report insists that the entire process of IDF long-term planning must be reversed, whereby political leaders provide guidance for each multiyear plan while regularly monitoring and assessing its implementation. “Guidance must come from the political level with implementation, the responsibility of the IDF staff with oversight and deep involvement of the National Security Council,” the authors wrote.
It also took the government to task for failure to set wartime goals for the IDF and to determine the desired outcome or exit strategy for each theater. Furthermore, lawmakers faulted the government for over-reliance on military force, which they insisted is just one part of a holistic approach that must involve diplomacy, economic and legal measures, covert activities, and other forms of “soft power.”
In one of the only direct criticisms of the IDF, lawmakers urged a new “economy of war” thinking on the part of military planners during targeting operations. It noted that in most of Israels recent wars or large-scale operations, the sheer number of targets struck had little to do with strategic achievements.
“A lesson from recent operations is to ... correct basic failures of planning and implementation that stem from [focus on] the number of targets rather than the quality of targets,” they noted. “The IDF must base its attack plan, in terms of fire and maneuver, on the effectiveness in achieving needed results, and to stay away from easy solutions ... that do not contribute to these aims.”
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.