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Israel Might Develop a Two-Seater F-35

For the most part, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has been branded by defense reporters as a strike aircraft with fighter capabilities, though Lockheed Martin has been marketing it as a multirole stealth fighter. The reason being that the F-35 is able to utilize its sensors in incredible ways to hit ground targets with considerable effectiveness, but it’s apparently lacking in the air-to-air role. All arguments on the F-35 aside, Israel, an F-35 procurement partner, has demonstrated interest in redeveloping the 5th generation fighter to include a second cockpit, optimizing it for the strike role even further than ever before.

The IAF has been after the F-35A since the program’s inception in the early 2000s, seeing it as the ideal replacement for their fleet of aging General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons, manufactured by Lockheed Martin. In Israeli service, the F-35A will be redesignated the F-35I Adir, and will be modified to feature Israeli-built hardware. And then, there’s the second cockpit, which Israel Aerospace Industries could potentially build into license-manufactured F-35Is in the future.

Generally, the backseater in a two-seat fighter helps manage the workload imposed on the pilot up front, reducing the already-heavy burden on the pilot who not only has to fly the aircraft (extremely difficult in itself), but also manage the mission he or she is tasked with. In the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the Weapon Systems Officer (WSO or “wizzo”) does exactly what their job title suggests- man the fighter’s weapon systems, freeing the pilot to fly and focus on aerial threats. Currently, most two-seat fighters operated by NATO members (and allied nations) serve primarily as strike fighters, such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F/A-18F Super Hornet, Panavia Tornado GR4, etc. Since the majority of Israeli sorties involving the IAF’s fighter fleet revolve around air-to-ground-type mission settings, it makes sense that Israeli defense officials are considering bolstering the F-35’s strike capabilities beyond what it possesses at the moment. However, technology might just be what prevents this from happening.

By the time Israeli engineers find a way to reconfigure the F-35I to include room for a backseater, technology could very well jump to the point where computers can fill in completely, removing the need to have a second cockpit behind the first. Indeed, the F-22 Raptor, another Lockheed Martin product, is capable of prosecuting strike missions with ease, as its complex computer systems take over the role previously played by a WSO. The Raptor more than proved itself in the strike mission earlier this year during its combat debut, hitting Daesh-held targets in the Middle East during night operations. Conversely, Israel’s interest in the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle (basically a souped-up stealthed-out F-15E Strike Eagle) could also potentially reduce the chances of the two-seater F-35I ever getting off the drawing board.

A huge thanks to Peter Chilelli for coming up with the graphic featured in this post! You can check out more of Peter’s work at this link: Peter Chilelli- FineArtAmerica!

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About Ian D'Costa (256 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

3 Comments on Israel Might Develop a Two-Seater F-35

  1. Not likely, the aircrafts performance falls below the F16 and F15. Israel might as well develop a 4 seat F15 for all the good that will do. The F35 has a blind spot similar to the Mig15, its huge and the plane won’t survive a dog fight with that weakness no matter what avionics package it has.

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    • Israel has access to classified performance data on the F-35 that no civilian without a clearance does (including the media), and they’re still looking at buying the F-35 en masse. Given their history of aerial dominance and their ability to adapt western fighter aircraft to win the way they need them to, what does that tell you about the F-35?

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  2. The F-35 is a weak box frame fuselage, capped at each end by frames with cutouts for the nozzle and inlets. From the latter, the nose is hung like a bobweight as well.

    Trying to fit a second cockpit would mean cutting through this endcap frame and would be all but impractical on a jet which is already insufficiently torsionally rigid, thanks to the massive cutouts /around the corners/ of the airframe for the weapons bays and through the middle for the spare fuel tank and STOVL SDLF plenum.

    You might be able to scab something onto the top of the nose that rested over the spine of the jet but this would be akin to the Su-30 in terms drag and would -still- require at least a partial cut through the endcap frame.

    At one hundred million per airframe and thirty thousand dollars per flight hour, the F-35D might find some real use as a currency check ride for newbs about to take the big step into ‘national asset’ level fighter piloting and old-hands looking to do their yearly certification hop.

    But as a combat airframe it basically is an admission that the Pilot’s Associate type AI integrator is not working (and never will) while the notion that you need ‘help’ to drop all of two bombs or fire two missiles is equally absurd.

    Finally, you have to consider that the Israelis also want to fit conformal scab tanks and maybe dual-use weapons pods and tanks.

    Which is basically another admission that the jet hasn’t got the legs or the shot count to be survivable on an Iran type mision of over 950nm radius.

    Yet fitting all this kit to an aircraft which already grosses well past 50,000lbs when fully loaded and only has a wing area of 460 square feet (wingloading of 113lbs/sqft) is going to basically give it the handing of a 737 instead of an F-16I Sufa.

    And for what? Are you hunting 20-something SAMs with a 10-12nm standoff JDAM?

    Or are you bombing hardened nuclear labs a Isfahan or Natanz, with their 30ft thick roofs, using SPICE-250 glide bombs?

    If you want to kill HDBT, you almost halve to go with sequential .5m guided ballistics than can smash down with a BROACH++ level defeat capability.

    If you DON’T want to face off with Iran’s S-300 system you almost have to accept the use of F-15I with Popeye Turbo weapons as being safer than the F-35 pathfinder approach anyway.

    And those are the kinds of missions where you really want a second voice singing harmony in the choir of one. Stuff like the Rocket Wars in 2006 really don’t need that kind of coordination. Only when you are managing multiple (offboard) apertures and weapons systems do you need the second duck shooter while the boat rower manages flight safety and airspace dominance issues.

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