Israel tested a suite of customized capabilities for its fleet of F-35I stealth fighters during the Noble Dina exercise in the Mediterranean in March, according to reporting from Shephard Media. The exercise also included Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and the United States,
The most notable of the adjustments was the addition of two “special tanks” to carry additional fuel, adding to the relatively short combat range the aircraft can operate without having to be aerially refueled. The fuel in these tanks will be used during “non-stealth” flight phases, implying that they affect the F-35s stealthiness.
Other recently tested capabilities include:
- the ability of the F-35I to carry an Israeli-made deep penetrating high-precision bomb within its weapons bay;
- an enhanced capacity to operate and launch weapons in a highly contested electronic warfare environment; and
- improvements in the aircraft’s ability to intercept uncrewed aerial systems, which are being developed and deployed in growing numbers by a range of state and non-state actors throughout the world, including Iran.
These adjustments have been under development for several years and seem clearly engineered with a possible conflict with Iran in mind—especially the capacity to extend the combat range of the aircraft without aerial refueling.