Israel is currently planning to acquire up to 100 of the conventional take-off F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, but
with the rapidly expanding missile threat from Gaza in the south, Lebanon in the north and – in worst-case future scenarios – from the West Bank hugging the Israeli heartland, runways could become vulnerable. As a result, the IAF may be compelled for the first time to operate in the type of improvised, austere environments envisioned for the STOVL variant of the JSF.
Government and military sources here say the specter of increasingly accurate, long-range missiles in the hands of Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists already has prompted the spending of tens of millions of dollars over the past three years to harden air bases and fortify weapon depots.
The STOVL B models carry less fuel and payload, but Israeli planes don’t have far to go before entering enemy territory.