The Israeli Air Force has acquired more than 300 F-16 fighter jets since the mid 1990s, when it started purchasing American surplus — making the Israeli fleet the largest in the world outside of the United States Air Force.
It also operates the Israeli version of the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, which Israel — and Israel alone — is allowed to modify to better fit Israeli requirements for the Middle East.
Israel also receives a tremendous amount of US defense aid, in the form of both cash, weapons and weapons platforms — approximately US$3.8 billion in 2019, in fact.
So why doesn’t Israel — or any other foreign client for that matter — have the F-22 stealth fighter in its arsenal?
According to a special report from Caleb Larson at the National Interest, the much vaunted Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor operated by the USAF, is arguably the world’s “most advanced manned combat aircraft.”
Thanks to its high-tech coating (which has to be scraped off and re-applied even to fix a light), it is stealthier than the F-35 Lightning II, which has been exported to a number of US allies in both Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, most notably to Japan and Israel, the report said.
It was originally designed to counter aircraft in the Soviet Union’s arsenal in air-to-air combat, and therefore “exploits the latest developments in stealth technology to reduce detection by enemy radar, as well as thrust-vectoring engines for more maneuverability, and avionics that fuse and display information from on-board and off-board sensors in a single battlefield display.”
The F-22’s export was sunk due to the so-called “Obey Amendment.”
Congressman David Obey was worried that some of the sensitive and secretive technologies that went into developing the F-22 could be discovered and reverse-engineered by enemies of the United States if the US were to export the airframe, the report said. In particular, the stealth characteristics unique to the plane.
In 1998 he added an amendment to the 1998 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, the report said.
His amendment was a single sentence, and read, “none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to approve or license the sale of F-22 advanced tactical fighter to any foreign government.”
During the F-22’s development (the Advanced Tactical Fighter program), the USAF initially estimated they would purchase a whopping 750 of the program’s fighters, but today has only 187 airframes, the report said.
On top of the Obey Amendment, the F-22 program was hindered by any real threat to use it — it was designed to counter advanced fighters from the Soviet Union.
With the breakup of the latter, there just wasn’t a need for the advanced fighter.
(Caleb Larson is a defense writer for the National Interest.)