Listening to the Israeli Air Chief

05/27/2011 by Robbin Laird

While one of the Second Line of Defense team members was in Russia getting updates on the Russian military, another member of the team was in Tel Aviv getting an update on Israeli perspectives on the strategic situation as seen from Israel.

The occasion was the annual conference on Air Power held by the Fischer Institute in Tel Aviv.  Several presentations were given on various aspects of “alternatives for air power” in the period ahead, including American presentations, one a keynote from General Mosely, former Chief of Staff of the USAF, an insightful presentation by General Elder on the cybersecurity challenges, and one by me on 5th generation aircraft.

The final statement was made by General Ido Nechushtan, commander of the Israeli Air Force.  General Nechushtan underscored throughout that the upheavals in the Middle East introduced significant uncertainties and challenges. “There’s no doubt that we are in the midst of an earthquake in the region. It would be fair to say that the Middle East is engaged in an arms race.”

He emphasized that Israel needed to go back to basics.  And if anyone wonders what this means, this is the code word for Israelis do not want to see Israel surrounded by an Arab coalition hostile to Israel.

And the IAF chief made it clear that this also meant that Israel needed a very capable offensive and defensive force.  “The security reality in the coming years will be significantly more complex and will pose much more challenges,” Netchushtan said.

“We would like a military that can operate on several levels: preserving its classic, conventional capabilities against militaries, as well as defending the home front.”

In other words, a COIN force is nice but it better not be the only core competence.  He went out of his way to underscore the centrality of getting the F-35 as the centerpiece for such a hybrid force.

“In terms of costs, we selected the best plane. The agreement (with Lockheed Martin) includes all parameters — funding and technological features (integrated into the units built for the IAF).”

And “The forecasted delay in the delivery of the F-35 to the IAF is less dramatic than what is being said. The development of new weapon systems entails ups and downs. In the end, this jet will arrive at the IAF. We do not want to think of a situation in which the IAF has jets that are inferior to what others have.”

What is striking to this observer is how hearings such as those held recently by the Senate Armed Services committee drive a stake into the heart of US allies.  American allies need enhanced air and naval combat capability.  While the US seems to be puzzling over its future, and giving credence to a very, very, very, VERY  questionable “analyses” of a trillion dollar support cost for the F-35 (this analysis deserves evisceration on its own merit and we do that soon), U.S. allies facing real threats have no such confusion.

And I might note that one of the very few treatments of the Israeli Air Chief’s commnents can be found in the Chinese press.

Perhaps Senators Levin and McCain should begin to realize that their insular discussions of the F-35 are really about the US place in the world and the ability to work with its core allies. Why not be honest and just say that you want the U.S. to play a role of a second rate power, and to have its air arm go the route of the RAF.

Perhaps this last paragraph should be written in capital letters so, to paraphrase one of the Founders of the Republic, King George could read it without his glasses.

And perhaps better than celebrating Memorial Day we should fund capabilities that reduce the probability of adding unnecessarily to the rolls of the American and allied dead necessary to defend our freedoms.

Personally, I am getting sick of rhetoric rather than follow-through on building real military capability for the U.S. and its allies.  Now is the time to ensure that we do not need to expand Arlington Cemetery because we did not have the guts to make intelligent decisions in 2011.