The IDF assesses that its bases and runways could potentially be targeted by enemy missiles during wartime, leading to a decision to consider the purchase of a JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) squadron with vertical take-off and landing capabilities (VTOL), such as the F-35B.
According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35B employs a short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) capability via a shaft-driven lift fan propulsion system. The STVOL, designed to replace the AV-8B Harrier, also carries a refueling probe fitted into the right side of the forward fuselage. It has more than twice the range on internal fuel, operates at supersonic conditions, and houses internal weapons.
"The plan is that we will get the F-35 as soon as it's possible," a senior IAF official told Aviation Week & Space Technology. He noted that the IAF will eventually acquire more than 100 F-35s and emphasized that the IAF wanted the JSF "the minute it is available."
A senior Israeli general explained that "the number of aircraft [we obtain initially] could be irrelevant...The main issue now is that we get the first squadron as soon as possible. We give the basic capability to the squadron, and later on we increase it [with technology upgrades]...At the beginning, we expect to get at least one squadron, with more to follow by the end of the decade [in 2020]."
The Israeli rush to gain VTOL capability is certainly understandable, as the Jewish state faces the possibility of sustained missile and rocket attacks from at least three enemy states: Syria, Iran and Lebanon (via Hizballah).
The Israel Missile Defense Association (IMDA) notes that during the Second Lebanon War, (July 12 - August 13 2007), the IDF Home Front Command reported 3,970 rocket impacts in Israel. 907 rockets impacted on buildings or in close enough proximity to cause severe damage. 1,012 rockets landed in the northern city of Kiryat Shemona, while the coastal Nahariya sustained 808 rocket impacts. In addition, the Port of Haifa was forced to close and the Navy base at Haifa relocated south.
Hizballah still maintains an impressive arsenal of lethal projectiles that includes: Katyushas, 220mm and 302mm rockets, the FADJR-3 and FADJR-5, the Zelzal-2, the C-802 and Fatah-110.
Wyn Q. Bowen and Joanna Kidd estimate that Syria has a stockpile of several hundred SCUD-B, SCUD-C and SS-21 missiles. Damascus may also possess a number of SCUD-D missiles with a range of 650 kilometers. In addition, the Assad regime maintains 10 squadrons of fighter-ground attack aircraft (including Su-24, Su-22 and MiG-23 BN) and 16 squadrons of fighter aircraft (including MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-25 and MiG-29A and Su-27).
According to Steven A. Hildreth, a specialist in missile defense and non-proliferation, the Iranian Shahab-3 (a derivative of the North Korean No-Dong 1 ballistic missile) is reportedly capable of achieving a range of 1,000-1,500 kilometers. The Shahab-3A may have a range of 1,500 to 2,500 kilometers and could potentially reach targets throughout the Middle East, Turkey and southern Europe.