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US bans some Israel Air Force pilots from flying F-35s: Report

An F-35A Lightning II from the 388th Fighter Wing flies over Hill Air Force Base, June 25, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erica Webster)
January 17, 2023

In the latest of a series of adjustments undertaken by the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence to combat information leaks, Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots who hold foreign passports will not be permitted to fly F-35 combat aircraft, according to Jewish Press. IAF has reportedly complied with the request and issued restrictions to pilots with dual nationality, other than American, from training on the warplanes.

The F-35, with a top speed of Mach 1.6 and a refueling range of 1,400 miles, is a strike fighter that began operating throughout the United States armed services in 2011. Currently, around 450 are operated in three classes: F-35A, used by the Air Force, F-35B, under control of the Marines and F-35C, under joint control of both the Marines and the Navy.

Israel was the first country to select the F-35 through the United States foreign military sales process in 2010, initially purchasing 50 aircrafts from the U.S. with the goal of establishing three operational F-35 squadrons. In June of 2016, Lockheed Martin celebrated Israel’s receipt of the first aircraft, renamed “Adir.”

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Brig. Gen. Tal Kelman, IAF Chief of staff, said, “As a pilot who has flown more than 30 years and in a great variety of aircraft, I had the privilege of flying the F-35 simulator in Fort Worth and it was like holding the future in my hands. The unique combination of split-edge technology, lethality and the amazing man-machine interface will lead the world to the fifth generation.”

While the technical capabilities of the aircraft are impressive, it may be the advanced censors, information fusion and network connectivity driving concern to tighten security and reduce the risk of potentially sensitive information from leaks.

The new regulations, while not officially tied to the events, also follow allegations Daniel Duggan, former US Marine Corps aviator, violated American arms control regulations through training provided to Chinese pilots in South Africa over a decade ago without authorization from the US government. He was arrested in October of 2022, with the US formally requesting his extradition from Australia in December.

Other security issues, such as American concern that the Israeli Defense Forces were purchasing electronic vehicles manufactured in China for officer use, have recently been addressed. As the vehicles contain advanced multimedia systems, the potential for data leaks from cell phone use within the cars was cited as an area of potential instability.

A solution was reached in which the car’s information will be transferred and stored to an Israeli controlled secured cloud.