The Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) F-16I Sufa (Storm), a two seater, is the latest version of the Lockheed Martin F-16. Israel’s Peace Marble V foreign military sales program will supply the Israel Air Force (IAF) with 102 two-seat aircraft and is the largest Israeli F-16 acquisition yet. The F-16I is specially designed for Israel, and has been named “Soufa,” or “Storm” in Hebrew, by the IAF. The F-16I for Israel is based on current Block 50/52 production aircraft. The F-16I has a 23,600-kilogram [52,000 pound] take-off weight, considerably more than the earlier F-16s in IAF service, and is armed with the AMRAAM air-to-air missile.
The F-16I was developed on the basis of the F-16ES [Enhanced Strategic] single-seat and two-seat, long-range interdictor F-16 proposal. This configuraiton was developed in November 1993 in response to Israeli preference for the F-15I Eagle. The F-16ES featured additional fuel in one 1,136 liter (300 US gallon; 250 Imp gallon) centerline tank and two wing tanks, each 2,271 litre (600 US gallons; 500 Imp gallons), as well as two conformal tanks. The combat radius extended to in excess of 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 km; 1,151 miles). The F-16ES was not purchased at that time, but the conformal tanks were developed as retrofit option for existing F-16s.
The Israeli F-16I Soufa/Sufah (Storm/Thunderstorm), compliments Israel’s deterrent strategy by further strengthening the potential threat to carry out retaliatory strikes throughout the Middle East. The extended flight range reportedly allows Israeli forces to attack targets well within Iran without having to refuel. Some offered the interpretation that the ‘I’ in the F-16I, stands for Iran [actually it stands for Israel]. The bumps over the wing on both sides of the plane are conformal fuel tanks. Use of conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) extends the F-16’s effective mission range/loiter time up to 50 percent, depending on the mission profile. CFTs can be used for both air-to-ground and air-to-air missions. They can be easily removed. They also increase weapon payloads by freeing-up additional store stations. The baseline F-16 has a combat radius of 740 nm (1,370 km) with two 2,000-lb bombs and two AIM-9, with 1,040 US gal external tanks.
The Block 52/60 F-16 aircraft procured by Israel, Greece and the UAE have structural, plumbing, and wiring provisions for the Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT). Attached to the upper surface of the F-16’s fuselage, the tank’s lower surface conform to the aircraft’s shape. This arrangement allows the CFTs to be relatively light weight, since nothing is suspended from them. With an empty weight of 900 pounds, tank set holds 450 gallons (about 3,000 pounds) of additional JP-5/8 fuel. A CFT set carries 50 percent more fuel than the centerline external fuel tank, with only 12 percent of the drag. The CFT can dramatically increase the operational radius of the aircraft for long range missions. The aircraft can fly a long range strike mission with full weapon’s load, and engage in air combat when external (370 Gal) fuel tanks have been dropped. The CFT, along with external 370 gallon jetissonable tanks or 600 gallon non-jetissonable external tanks are added with the CFT, provides the F-16 with a 60-70 percent increase in operational radius. At subsonic speeds the CFT have neglible effect on the aircraft agility, thought the drag increases in proportion to speed at supersonic speeds. The aircraft fitted with CFT retain nearly the full handling qualities, flight limits, and signature. The CFT set can be fitted or removed in less than two hours. The tanks are are built under the Peace Marble V program by IAI as a sole source to Lockheed Martin’s specification.
Lockheed Martin began F-16 flight demonstration of an initial CFT shape in 1994 to investigate performance and handling quality characteristics. Subsequent wind tunnel testing led to the current external lines, which were initially validated in flight testing of high angle-of-attack handling characteristics at Edwards AFB, CA. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company completed the first phase of flight testing of its new conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) for its F-16 multirole fighter in September 2001. Flight testing with aerodynamic shapes was conducted on an F-16C at Eglin Air Force Base, FL, from March through August. A total of 24 test flights and 65 flight test hours were accomplished, and testing involved loads, flutter, and stability and control.
There are conflicting reports concerning the F-16I combat radius, but the most reliable source reports a combat radius of 2,100 km, on par with the F-15I. The Israeli military would not disclose the exact range of the jet, but one senior air force officer said, “it can reach the capitals of all the countries in the region.” One report says that “it has an 820 km non-refueling radius of operation, sufficient to reach both Libya and Iran” — but a glance at a map reveals that 820 kilometers from Israel is short of Baghdad, and far short of the 1,500 kilometers need to reach Tehran. One report suggest that the F-16I has an unrefueled combat strike radius of 1,640 kilometers without refueling. Another report relates that the external fuel capacity in conformal fuel tanks increases the aircraft range to 800 miles (1,500 km). One published reports states that the external fuel tanks above the central fuselage, extend the range of the jet and the reach of the Israeli air force by 25 percent.
The cockpit of the F-16I has been expanded to provide for the addition of an onboard weapons officer situated behind the pilot. The independent system operator station provides increased effectiveness in night/adverse weather, high-threat and special system missions. This version also facilitates operational training. In addition to the new and more powerful Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine, the F-16I has numerous modifications. The engine will enable it to achieve a maximum take-off weight of 23,582kg.
The Sufa has been customized with new avionic technologies, internally mounted FLIR, forward looking infrared, viewers, and cutting edge weapon system hardware provided by the Israeli defense company Lahav – a division of Israel Aircraft Industries. The Lahav technology will allow for simultaneous, multi-target air-to-air engagement and increased standoff and survivability capabilities.
The F-16I has been earmarked to receive the new Python 5 imaging infrared-guided high agility air-to-air missile produced by Rafael, the former Israeli Armaments Development Authority. The predecessor to the Python 5, the Python 4, was regarded to be the most advanced heat-seeking missile in the world. The Python 5 boasts a new seeker less prone to countermeasures, lock-after-launch capabilities, and an extended operational engagement time once fired.
In addition, the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-68(V)9 multimode radar increases the distance of airborne engagement by 30 percent over the older APG-69 system and affords the “Sufa” with a high-resolution synthetic-aperture ground mapping capability.
On 19 July 1999 the government of Israel officially confirmed to Lockheed Martin that it will purchase 50 F-16I aircraft after a long and intense evaluation in competition with the Boeing F-15I. The total program including the aircraft, mission equipment and a support package is worth about $2.5 billion to various suppliers. The value to Lockheed Martin is about $1.8 billion. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics received a contract for 52 F-16 aircraft for Israel on Dec. 19, 2001, significantly extending the firm F-16 production base. The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract for Israel officially exercises the option for 52 additional F-16I aircraft under the Peace Marble V program. Israel had originally ordered 50 F-16Is in 2001 but increased the purchase to 102 after deciding against the procurement of additional F-15Is. The estimated $4.5 billion dollar F-16I deal, $45 million per aircraft, will be financed by the annual U.S. military aid package and concludes the largest ever Israeli military purchase.
The purchases will replace Israel’s remaining stock of older Boeing F-15 Eagles in service since 1976, advanced multi-role Lockheed Martin F-16A/B series in service since 1980, multi-role F-4E Phantoms in service since 1969, and multi-role A-4 Skyhawks in service since 1967.
The first IDF/AF F-16I was officially handed over to the IDF/AF at Ft Worth, TX on 14 November 2003. On 23 December 2003 Lockheed Martin today completed a successful first flight of the F-16I, an Advanced Block 52 F-16 variant built for Israel. The F-16 flew for 55 minutes and landed safely at the Lockheed Martin facility. The initial flight assessed basic aircraft operation including flight controls, landing gear and environmental control, cockpit and basic avionics systems. Delivery of the first of 102 F-161 fighters, originally expected to occur in September 2003, was delayed until December 2003. There were development problems with the F-161, due to the fact that the aircraft is a new and unique configuration that included Israeli systems, such as electronic-warfare (EW) gear and displays, that were a challenge to integrate.
Three squadrons of the new aircraft are expected to be operational by 2008, with the first strike aircraft arriving in February 2004. It appears that deliveries are taking place at the rate of two aircraft per month, suggesting a force of about 20 aircraft by the end of 2004 and nearly 50 by late 2005. The first unit to operate the F-16I was the Negev Squadron, which was reformed at Ramon on July 27, 2003 to operate the Suefa. The next unit to reequip with the Suefa will be the Orange Tail Knights Squadron, also at Ramon, followed by the Bat Squadron. With the additional 102 new F-16Is, Israel will operate a total of 362 F-16s – the largest fleet of F-16s in the world outside of the United States Air Force.
Open sources provide no indication of whether Israel has plans or programs to backfit any earlier F-16 versions with features introduced on the F-16I, such as the conformal fuel tanks. However, as many of these elements are of Israeli origin, such backfits would not be overly difficult to accomplish. For instance, if Israel decided to substantially enlarge its long-range strike aviation force, this could be accomplished by local production of additional fuel tanks. At the end of 2004 open sources indicated that Israel’s long range aviation assets consisted of 25 F-15Is, and about 20 F-16Is. A total of 209 other F-16s were also available for potential upgrades with CFTs. Since these tanks are manufactured by IAI, production of additional CFTs for upgrade could have been undertaken without notice by the outside world. If, for instance, Israel had determined in 2002 that the projected delivery rate of F-16Is would not provide adequate strike capabilities when needed, accelerated CFT production could have been undertaken to provide many dozens of CFT kits in the 2005 timeframe.