WASHINGTON — The United States sped capability updates to Israel’s F-35 fighters after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, the top officer in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter program said Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt, program executive officer for the F-35, declined to identify to reporters the capabilities sent to Israel in the two-plus months following the attack, noting the program strives to keep all nations flying the jet supplied with spare parts and capabilities.
But speaking with reporters after a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, Schmidt confirmed the improvements rushed to Israel occurred after Hamas’ deadly attack that killed at least 1,200 people. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 18,000 people have died as a result of subsequent Israeli air and ground attacks in the Gaza Strip.
Bill LaPlante, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said at the hearing the F-35 program was recently able to hurry updated mission data files to a nation in a week or week and a half. Schmidt confirmed after the hearing that LaPlante was referring to Israel.
Mission data files are a “brick,” as LaPlante described them, containing the jet’s memory of threats it might encounter on an operation and other information needed for combat.
The F-35 program “is still not where it needs to be on these mission data files,” LaPlante said. But the recent rapid updating of these files is a good sign, he added, and the lessons learned from doing so will be used across the program.
LaPlante said in written remarks that Israel has 35 of its 39 F-35s operating and carrying out missions, with the help of a surge in sustainment support to maximize the nation’s aircraft readiness.
The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said at Tuesday’s hearing the F-35 Joint Program Office “moved at a breakneck speed” to support Israel by accelerating its jets’ weapons capabilities and increasing the flow of spare parts.
Schmidt told lawmakers Israel’s F-35s have performed “absolutely outstanding” in its war to eliminate Hamas, with high rates of aircraft able to carry out their missions.
“We have added some capabilities to that airplane in a very short period of time,” he said. “Our team is doing everything we can to continue to move the ball forward there.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.