The air force arm of the Israel Defense Forces (Tsvah Haganah le Israel Heyl Ha'Avir ) is one of the largest and most capable air forces in the Middle East.
The primary missions of the Israeli air force include:
defend Israel's airspace and the IDF's area of operations;
achieve air superiority above the area of combat in a ground war;
attack strategic targets in enemy territory;
participate in combat in the naval theater;
carry out air transport operations;
provide air intelligence as part of the general intelligence picture;
carry out aerial photography mission for all IDF needs;
perform air search-and-rescue missions; and
assist civil aviation authorities in command, control and services.
Due to the integrated structure of the Israel Defense Forces, the air force is solely responsible for providing a "protective umbrella" over the nation. Israel is also continuing the development of an anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) capability, centered around the Arrow missile defense system.
The Israeli air force operates a special air operations force known as Yechidat Shaldag. Its mission is similar to the U.S. Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Air Defense Command
The Air Defense Command has been under air force control (officially) since December 1970. Seventeen air defense battalions assist ground force operations and protect air force bases.
The IAF numbers 34,000 active-duty personnel, including 24,500 conscripts (mainly assigned to air defense). IAF reserves can mobilize an additional 55,000 personnel.
(For additional information on the equipment listed below, search our Weapons Database. All equipment is of U.S. origin unless otherwise noted. Aircraft are listed by their IAF Hebrew names followed by their English translation.)
The base at Nevatim opened in August 2008. It is the largest air base in the Middle East.
Israel has a significant number of surplus aircraft that are being offered for sale.
In September 2008, a Cobra attack helicopter crashed during a training mission near Afula in northern Israel, killing two pilots and prompting the air force to ground the aircraft during the investigation.
A Zukit crashed during a training flight in October 2008, killing the cadet and flight instructor and prompting all of the aircraft to be temporarily grounded.
The F-16I fleet was temporarily grounded in September 2009 after an engine fouled during a routine training flight and the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing.
An F-16A crashed during a routine training exercise in September 2009. The pilot, Assaf Ramon, 21, was the son of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died when the Columbia shuttle exploded in 2003.
In July 2010, an Israeli CH-53 helicopter crashed in Romania, killing six Israelis and a Romanian. The Israeli air force grounded all CH-53s in the wake of the crash.
In November 2010, an Israeli F-16I crashed in the Negev desert, killing both the pilot and the navigator. The crash was the result of human error.
The Israeli air force put the first of its new airborne early warning system planes into service in the spring of 2008. The Eitam aircraft, which is based on a Gulfstream G550 business jet, features the Phalcon radar system. The new plane will replace Israel's Boeing 707 AEW aircraft.
Israel ordered 102 F-16I fighters from the U.S. in 2003, with the last models arriving in late 2008. Some of the F-16A /Bs have been placed in reserve. Training flights were temporarily suspended in March 2008 when a suspected carcinogen was found in the cockpit of a few U.S.-made F-16Is, but delivery of the aircraft was not halted.
Israel plans to replace its C-130E Hercules transport aircraft with the C-130J variant, to be used for long-range missions and precision airdrops. Up to nine aircraft were ordered in August 2008 for $1.9 billion. An order for another C-130 -J-30 was placed in April 2011. Three additional aircraft are being purchased by the United States as part of a foreign aid package. The first was ordered in April 2010 and is slated to be delivered in the spring of 2013. The next two aircraft should be handed over in late 2013 and early 2014. Some C-130Hs may also be upgraded to fly until 2025.
The air force's Shachaf (Sea Scan) surveillance seaplanes received a complete upgrade in late 2010. A new observation system was installed on the aircraft as part of a modernization designed to keep the planes operational for several more years.
Israel requested to purchase KC-767 refueling aircraft from the United States, but the order was refused in August 2008.
In October 2008, the air force decided to abandon U.S.-made cluster bombs in favor of the M85 cluster bomb, made by Israel Military Industries (IMI). The decision was reportedly made after the U.S. munitions failed to explode 30 to 40 percent of the time during the 2006 Lebanon War.
In October 2008, the air force announced the development of a non-asphalt substance that can restore damaged runways within minutes, allowing fighters to take off and land during enemy missile and rocket strikes.
The air force announced in December 2008 that it was looking to replace its aging A-4 Skyhawk aircraft, which were first acquired in 1967 before being phased out in the early 1980s. They are used as trainers or electronic warfare aircraft. Possible replacements include older F-16s, U.S. T-45s, South Korean T-50s or Italian trainers.
Israel has long expressed interest in purchasing the F-22 , but so far the U.S. has declined to sell the aircraft to any foreign powers.
The air force purchased in August 2009 over 100 LJDAM (laser joint direct attack munition) kits from the United States to convert unguided bombs into "smart" weapons. The kit includes a tail section with a GPS device; body improvements for additional stability and lift; and a laser seeker to improve the bomb's ability to accurately engage moving targets.
The Israeli air force is interested in procuring acquiring micro-satellites. The satellites would give the military more versatility, while enabling main space assets to continue their intelligence-gathering and strategic operations.
In late 1007, Israel began forming its unmanned aerial vehicles into a three-tiered force based on the medium-altitude Hermes 450, the Heron 1, the high-altitude Eitan, as well as a mini-UAV soon to be selected. The Searcher 2 is slated to be phased out.
To that end, Israel ordered new Hermes -450 UAVs from Elbit Systems in November 2007. Elbit will also upgrade existing Hermes UAVs as part of the three-year program.
The long-endurance Eitan UAV, believed to be the largest UAV in the world, was unveiled by the Israeli air force in early 2010. The UAV, which has an 85-foot wingspan, can remain in the air for more than 24 consecutive hours, reach an altitude of 43,000 feet and carry payloads of about one ton.
Israel ordered miniature Skylark I LE UAVs as part of a $40 million deal in January 2009 for all Israeli ground forces battalions, as well as training and logistics support. Delivery is expected to take a few years.
In late 2009, the Israeli air force and the army's ground forces command put out a request for proposals for a stealthy unmanned aerial vehicle capable of flying undetected in combat zones. The UAV should be able to operate at relatively low altitudes of 3,000 feet and be capable of flying for up to 10 hours at a time.
In 2010, Israel awarded Elbit Systems a $50 million contract to provide its Hermes 900 unmanned systems along with some Hermes 450 systems to the military.
In late 2010, the Israeli air force activated its first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) squadron equipped with Eitan aircraft at the Tel-Nof air force base.
Helicopter Acquisition and Modernization
The Israeli air force is testing an indigenously upgraded version of the Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-53-2000. The Yas'ur (Clearwater) 2025 program is designed to keep the helicopters in front-line duty through 2025. The first heavy-lift helicopter prototype was unveiled on November 2007. The helicopters will be equipped with new avionics architecture, rewired electrical power system and an automatic hovering system that allows it to maintain a position in situations where the crew has limited visual recognition points.
Military officials test-flew U.S. Marine V-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys in North Carolina in May and June 2011. There are no known plans to acquire the aircraft.
The air force announced in April 2009 that it was negotiating with Boeing to upgrade four AH-64A Apache helicopters to the AH-64D Longbow standard. It was also negotiating the purchase of six new AH-64Ds. The United States later blocked the sale.
The air force acknowledged in July 2011 that it was considering an active protection systems for its helicopters similar to the Trophy system to protect tanks.
Joint Strike Fighter
In May 2008, Israel formally requested to purchase 25 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from the U.S. for US$80 million each, with options for another 50 jets. The planes will be used to replace the F-16 fleet. The first aircraft was scheduled for a 2014 delivery, although Israel reportedly asked that be bumped up to mid-2012.
The Pentagon approved the sale in October 2008. At least 25 of the aircraft will be the F-35A conventional takeoff variant. Some of the remaining jets may be of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing design. A subsequent request to install some Israeli parts in the fighters jeopardized the deal, as the U.S. was concerned such a move would grant Israeli access to classified systems.
Disputes over the price of the fighter and the issue of Israeli systems led the air force briefly to consider purchasing Boeing's F-15 Silent Eagles as an alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter . Boeing told Israel in April 2009 that its plane could be ready as early as 2011.
In particular, Israel requested access to classified computer systems for repair purposes. Israeli officials argued that in the event of war, its air force could not wait for computers to be shipped to and from the U.S.
By June 2009, the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon announced an understanding. Israel reported that it had found a way to bypass the classified mainframe when conducting repairs and installing new systems. An official letter of request for 25 aircraft was sent in that same month, with an option for 50 more, similar to the original May 2008 request.
Israel announced in September 2009 that price considerations might reduce the initial order to 20 aircraft if the unit cost were to be significantly more than US$100 million. It was also indicated that an early 2010 contract target date would probably not be met.
Delays in the program mean that the United States would not receive its first fighter until 2015, which would push back the delivery date for other countries interested in purchasing the jet. Because of the delay, Israeli air force officials called for a review of the F-35 procurement plan.
In mid-2010, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the purchase of 20 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for the Israeli air force. The jets are scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017. The deal is worth an estimated US$2.7 billion. Israel signed the agreement for the aircraft in October.
Missile Defense Program
In response to the threat of rocket attacks from Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran, Israel has launched an ambitious missile shield program to protect the nation from a range of projectiles, from extremely short-range to long-range weapons.
Testing of the Arrow 2 missile defense system, which includes the Green Pine radar system, began in early 2008. It passed its 18th test in March 2009. The Arrow , which is being developed in conjunction with the United States, is designed to defend against long-range ballistic missiles similar to the Iranian Shahab 3. It is expected to deploy by 2012.
The U.S. has also pledged to assist in development of the Arrow 3, which will be a longer-range version of the current Arrow system. The system should become operational in 2012 or 2013.
David's Sling is designed to counter a broad range of projectiles, from very short-range to medium-range missiles. It is being developed in conjunction with the U.S. and expected to enter service in 2012 or 2013. The air force is considering it as a replacement for the 50-year-old MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missile systems.
The $200 million Iron Dome system, designed for protection against short-range rockets, was successfully tested in July 2008. It passed critical tests in March 2009, July 2009, January 2010, and July 2010.
A new battalion to operate the Iron Dome stood up in August 2009. It is a part of the air defense division, which also operates Arrow . The first Iron Dome battery was deployed outside of Beersheba in March 2011. A second system, which was deployed near Ashkelon the following month, destroyed two rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip. There are plans to deploy several more batteries through 2013.
The Magic Wand system, which is designed to complement the short-range Iron Dome , could be deployed as early as 2013 to protect against short-range and cruise missiles.
Israel also tested and deployed a prototype laser system near Gaza in July 2008 to intercept rockets, mortars and missiles at significant ranges. The Laser Air Defense System (LADS) could also be used as a way to defend against Kassam rockets and mortars.
Israel struck a deal with the United States in August 2008 to deploy an X-band radar to guard against a potential missile attack from Iran. The radar can track medium- and long-range radars in space and target incoming missiles for anti-missile systems. It is manned by U.S. personnel.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said in April 2009 that it would like to buy the U.S. Vulcan -Phalanx missile defense system as a front-line system to protect southern Israel from rocket and mortar attacks.
Israel's Nuclear Program
Much secrecy surrounds Israel's nuclear weapons program. The country will neither confirm nor deny its possession of nuclear weapons. There is, however, abundant evidence of its existence. According to a November 1994 report, nuclear research and development, as well as testing and storage of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, takes place at seven locations within Israel, including Dimona, Soreq, Palmikim Missile Test Range, Yodefat, Be'er Yaakov, Kefar Zekharya and Eilabun.
The following is derived from multiple sources:
Dimona, located in the Negev Desert, is the site of a nuclear reactor and Israel's main plutonium processing plant. Soreq is also home to one of Israel's nuclear research reactors and has extensive nuclear weapons research and development facilities. Located just north of Soreq is the Palmikim Missile Test Range where delivery systems such as the Jericho SSM are flight-tested. A Jericho II was test-fired at the Palmikim range on Sept. 14, 1989. Yodefat, east of Haifa, houses nuclear weapons assembly and dismantling facilities, while Be'er Yaakov is an assembly point for Jericho II SSMs. Eilabun and Kefar Zekharya are both nuclear weapons storage sites.
According to reports, Kefar Zekharya contains a number of Jericho II nuclear-tipped ballistic missile sites. Estimates suggest that up to 50 nuclear-tipped Jericho IIs are bunkered at this location. During the Gulf War, a Jericho II was test-fired from this site, hitting 1,300 km away at a point south of the Greek island of Crete.
The Arrow surface-to-air missile and Jericho II are assembled at Be'er Yaakov, while warhead construction is carried out at Rafale 's Division 20 at Yodefat.
Israel Defense Forces ground formations are organized into:
3 regional commands, each with
2 regular divisions
1-2 regional divisions
2 regular brigades
2 armored divisions, consisting of
4 infantry divisions, consisting of
8 paratroop brigades
4 artillery regiments
8 self-propelled artillery regiments
Editor's Note: The structure of IDF formations varies according to operational situations.
Given the integrated structure of the IDF, there is no separate ground forces aviation wing. Close air support for the ground forces is provided by the Israeli air force. Cobra and Apache helicopter gunships are used for close-fire support and several types of fixed-wing transports are designated for paratroop operations.
Israel's military operates a number of counter-terrorist and special operations units, including naval commandos (See Israel Navy), Mista'arvim, Sayeret Mat'kal, Ya'ma'm, Ya'ma's and Yechidat Shaldag.
Mista'arvim ("The Arabists") This unit was formed to infiltrate and neutralize leaders of the Palestinian uprising. Operatives disguised as local Arabs frequently operated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until the Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza. The status of this group is currently unknown. Two units of the Mista'arvim, the Duvdevan ("Cherry") and Shimshon ("Samson "), have operated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, respectively.
The Sayeret Mat'kal This unit is the General Staff's highly trained, long-range reconnaissance unit -- often inserted deep behind enemy lines. Formed in 1957, this super-secret unit has been credited with the assassination of three of Black September's top lieutenants in the 1970s and participation in the successful Entebbe rescue operation in 1976 in Uganda. Reports also linked the Sayeret Mat'kal to the assassination of PLO deputy commander Abu Jihad in 1988 and the 1989 abduction of Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, one of Hezbollah's top commanders.
Ya'ma'm The Hebrew acronym for Special Police Anti-Terrorist Unit, and Ya'ma's, the Hebrew acronym for Special Undercover Unit, are both part of the National Police Border Guard. The former is trained in hostage-rescue operations, while the latter specializes in undercover operations primarily in the West Bank.
The IDF ground forces number 133,000 active-duty personnel, including 107,000 conscripts. Approximately 500,000 personnel are on rapid mobilization status. Reservists serve 29 days annually.
Equipment (For additional information on the equipment listed below, search our Weapons Database. Equipment is of Israeli origin unless otherwise noted.)
Deployment Below is a partial snapshot of the ground forces organization:
Northern Command HQ Zefat
Central Command HQ Neva-Yaacout
Southern Command HQ Neva-Yaacout
Home Front Command
401 Brigade Jordan Valley
7 Brigade Golan Heights
890 Efa (Viper) Battalion
101 Patan (Adder) Battalion
202 Tzafa (Basilisk) Battalion
Paratroopers reconnaissance company
Signals and electronics company
Shaked Infantry Battalion
Tzabar Infantry Battalion
Orev Anti-Tank Battalion
Special communications unit
Combat engineer battalion
Barak Infantry Battalion
Gideon Infantry Battalion
"First Breaches" Infantry Battalion
Ergoz Special Operations Unit
Orev Anti-Tank Battalion
Special communications unit
Combat engineer unit
Nachshon Battalion Tulkarem
Samson Battalion Bethlehem
Haruv Battalion Nablus
Duchifat Mechanized Infantry Battalion Ramallah
Lavi Battalion Hebron
Netzah Yehuda Battalion Jordan valley
The army began construction on a base at Ir HaBahadim in the Negev in August 2008. It will house the IDF's Armaments School, Logistics Training School and military police.
Issues A Merkava Mark 3 overturned during a joint training exercise between armored and infantry units in the Golan Heights in August 2009, killing the commander and injuring the three troops inside. An infantryman in the area also died a few days later after being accidentally shot in the back.
The Israeli military plans to train its infantry troops in basic Arabic. The new course will cover Arabic, Arab culture and basic interrogation methods, and is designed to improve real-time intelligence-gathering capabilities during combat.
Plans and Programs In March 2008, the Israel Defense Forces unveiled its newest infantry combat vehicle. The Tiger (Namer in Hebrew) is built on the chassis of the Merkava 1 tank and is designed to offer more protection against anti-tank weapons. An undetermined number of the vehicles were expected to be fielded by the end of 2008.
A fifth mechanized infantry brigade (Kfir) has been formed, combining five independent battalions.
Around 400 Merkava Mark 4 main battle tanks are being produced at the rate of 50-70 per year, replacing older MBTs. Starting in 2010, new Merkava Mark 4s were expected to be equipped with the Trophy anti-missile system, designed by Rafael. Trophy was declared fully operational in August 2009 and has been installed on a number of Mark 4s in the 401st Armored Brigade. The system successfully intercepted an anti-tank missile that was fired near the Gaza Strip in early 2011.
Israel and Navistar Defense entered into a US$12 million contract for medium tactical vehicles in January 2010. The contract covers 114 vehicles that are based on Navistar's International 7000-series platform, including cargo, recovery and tow trucks, but not parts and service.
In May 2006, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Ground Forces Command submitted a formal requirement for two rockets to be developed by the state-owned defense industry. The missiles are said to have a range of 300 km (186 mi) with the capability to make precision strikes on high-value targets.
The Spike /Gill family of anti-tank missiles is being introduced into the IDF. They are portable fire-and-forget weapons that use electro-optical and fiber-optic technologies.
The army has a requirement for 18 ATMOS 2000 self-propelled howitzers. The 155-mm howitzers will equip three battalions.
The army chose the MARS hand-held thermal imager and target acquisition system for use by its infantry for close combat in July 2008. The system incorporates a laser rangefinder, digital magnetic compass and Global Positioning System receiver.
Under a multi-year US$100 million plan, the Israeli military will equip all of its infantry and armor brigades with ground-based satellite dishes to improve their communication abilities. The very small aperture terminal (VSAT) two-way broadband satellite communication systems will enable commanders to communicate with headquarters and receive live video from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Israel Military Industries (IMI) announced in September 2008 the development of a 120-mm satellite-guided mortar round with a range of 6 miles that is able to hit a target within a 10-foot radius. Israeli armored units deployed near Gaza have fielded the M339 high-explosive multi-purpose round, known as the Kalanit in Hebrew. It is designed to penetrate bunkers before exploding.
The artillery corps was equipped in December 2008 with a radar system that can pinpoint the launch site of rocket and mortar attacks, allowing for effective retaliation against Hamas and Hezbollah militants.
The artillery corps is also considering the Accular advanced rocket. It is a 60-mm, GPS -guided surface-to-surface missile that is designed to destroy artillery batteries and infantry command posts.
A new tank shell developed by IMI was tested in July 2009. The 120-mm Calanit (Anemone) shell can be fired over a hill and explode above enemy anti-tank squads. The fire-and-forget weapon works with an electronic targeting system to release six explosive charges in mid-air.
The army is assessing the potential use of the Magic Spear rocket system. The 160-mm rocket is an autonomous surface-to-surface missile with a range of 30 miles (50 km) and GPS guidance enabling it to hit within 30 feet (10 m) of a target. It is fired from IMI's Lynx launcher, which can fire a variety of rockets at ranges of up to 90 miles (150 km).
The Israeli navy operates surface and sub-surface naval vessels in defense of Israel's Mediterranean and Red Sea maritime boundaries.
Naval aircraft, including patrol, search-and-rescue, surveillance and helicopter gunships, are maintained and flown by air force personnel.
The Israeli navy is organized into the following units:
3rd Flotilla (missile boats)
Fast patrol boat squadron
Underwater missions unit
Port security unit
Maritime control unit
The Naval Commando Flotilla consists of a commando unit and a frogman squadron. There are two main principles guiding naval commando doctrine:
Every defense system is vulnerable.
The enemy can deal with weapons and operational methods that are known; for that reason, naval commandos use imagination, daring and initiative to create situations that cannot be anticipated.
The Naval Commando Flotilla is known to use inflatable Zodiacs and the more heavily armed Swallow (Snunit) high-speed boats, as well as the Navy's DABUR- and SA'AR-class patrol boats. IAF helicopter and aircraft assets are routinely used in Naval Commando Flotilla operations.
Top officials in the IDF predict an expanded role for the Israeli submarines in the Mediterranean Sea in the future. The boats will continue to be used for clandestine surveillance, but will likely expand their deterrent role. Many analysts believe that Israeli submarines can be equipped with nuclear weapons, thus giving them a "second-strike" option.
In mid-June 2011, the navy carried out an exercise designed to prepare for an "aid flotilla" to Gaza by outside activists. In May 2010, nine civilians were killed when navy commandos boarded a Turkish ship breaking the Israeli blockade.
Relations with Turkey grew worse after the 2008-2009 Gaza war. In mid-2010, for example, Turkey pulled out of a naval search-and-rescue drill with Israel and the U.S.
The Israeli navy numbers about 9,500 active-duty personnel, including 2,500 conscripts. The reserve force totals approximately 10,000. Some 300 personnel are trained as commandos and frogmen.
FEB07 APR08 OCT09 AUG11 SHIPS Submarines 3 3 3 3 DOLPHIN class (German Mod 209 design) (+3 on order) 2 2 2 N/A GAL class Corvettes 3 3 3 3 SA'AR V class (Israeli EILAT class) Fast attack 2 0 0 0 ALIYA-class missile craft (sold to Mexico) (w/helicopter) (Sa'ar 4.5 design) 7 8 8 8 HETZ-class missile craft (Sa'ar 4.5 design) (to be replaced by 2011) 2 1 1 2 RESHEV-class missile craft (Sa'ar 4 design) 13 13 13 13 SUPER DVORA Mk I/II-class gun craft 6 6 9 8 SUPER DVORA Mk III-class gun craft 12 12 12 15 DABUR class 3 3 3 T-2212-class catamarans 1 1 1 ALLIGATOR-class semi-submersible 2 5 SHALDAG Mk II class Amphibious 1 2 1 1 ASHDOD-class tank landing craft (ex-U.S. LSM-1) 1 2 1 1 U.S. LCM type Auxiliaries # 1 1 1 QESHET training # # N/A N/A NIR tender 1 1 N/A N/A Katler 3 3 N/A N/A Type 1012 Bobcat Catamaran MISSILES Anti-Ship # # # 3 Gabriel I (Israel) # # # # Gabriel II (Israel) # # # # AGM-84/RGM-84 Harpoon (U.S.) Surface-to-Air # # # # Barak I (Israel)
The air force arm of the Israel Defense Forces operates a number of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in support of naval operations, including:
FEB07 APR08 OCT09 AUG11 AIRCRAFT SAR/Maritime Reconnaissance 5 7 7 7 SA565A Sea Panther SAR/MR (France) N/A 2 2 2 SA 366G Dauphin SAR/MR (France) 17 17 17 Bell 212 Transport 2 C-130 Hercules (U.S.) The Israeli navy in March 2006 got involved for the first time in efforts to counter Kassam rockets launched by Palestinian militants. Israeli DVORA and SHALDAG -type ships fired dozens of shells at Kassam launching sites in northern Gaza. The bombardments complemented Israeli army artillery fire also aimed at deterring militants from firing rockets at Israeli villages.
In mid-March 2011, the Israeli navy seized a ship 200 miles off the coast of Israel which was traveling from Turkey to Egypt. Commandos reported finding Iranian weapons, likely bound for Gaza.
Plans and Programs Israel accepted three Super Dvora Mark III patrol boats from manufacturer IAI in September 2006. Four more were being constructed at the time with a waterjet propulsion system in place of the Arneson Surface Drive-16 propulsion systems on the first six. Israel also ordered three Kingfisher (Shaldag ) patrol craft. Deliveries of the new boats have been completed. The vessels are equipped to perform patrol, search-and-rescue, coastal defense, counterterrorism, anti-infiltration and anti-smuggling missions.
A missile defense system is being tested on the two classes of patrol boats. The system includes a radar to detect and track incoming missiles and an electronic warfare system to jam missiles and divert them from their course. Improvements to anti-ship capabilities among Hamas and Hezbollah militants prompted development of the defense system.
The navy successfully tested the Barak -1 naval missile shield in late 2008. The system is designed to protect Israeli naval vessels from air-to-surface and sea-to-sea missiles over a 360-degree radius, as well as cruise missiles, smart bombs and aerial bombs. Another successful test was carried out in July 2009.
In late 2009, the Israeli navy announced that it would begin to make use of unmanned vessels for Mediterranean patrol duty. The Protector vessels and another undisclosed system were used in the Gaza War.
Ship Acquisition and Modernization
Israel and Northrop Grumman have negotiated the purchase of a new class of improved Sa'ar V corvettes. The ships were expected to replace the HETZ/NIRIT-class ships by 2011. Funding for the new ships will come from the $2.2 billion annual U.S. military aid package.
Four DEFENDER -class patrol boats were ordered in early 2006 from SAFE Boats International of Port Orchard, Wash. The vessels will be used for port security and to counter insurgents and weapons smugglers.
Israel placed an order for four Littoral Combat Ships for US$1.9 billion in July 2008. Israel said it was interested only in the Lockheed Martin version of the class. In June 2009, Israel abandoned the order, instead deciding to build at least two littoral ships itself. Rising costs of Lockheed's L CS reportedly contributed to the decision.
Israel has expressed interest in acquiring two German MEKO A-200 corvettes. The vessels have an estimated value US$600 million to US$750 million. They would used as part of Israel's missile defense system and could be armed with U.S. weapons, as well as an Israeli radar and Barak 8 missile defense system. However, by mid-2011. Israel was again said to be considering LCS vessels over the MEKO ships.
Submarine Acquisition and Modernization
Israel finalized an agreement in 2006 to buy two new DOLPHIN-class submarines from German company Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG under a US$1.27 billion contract. The boats were delivered in late September 2009, well ahead of a 2010 expected delivery date. Germany picked up a third of the cost. The subs feature a new German propulsion system, which combines a conventional diesel lead-acid battery system and an air-independent propulsion system, as well as a fuel cell equipped with oxygen and hydrogen storage. The submarines are reportedly capable of launching cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads.
A deal to purchase a sixth DOLPHIN-class boat was finalized in 2011. Israel currently has three DOLPHIN submarines, two more on order expected to be delivered by 2013.
Israel previously announced plans to decommission the GAL-class boats after the arrival of the DOLPHIN submarines.