From news article:
McDonnell Douglasâ€™ A-4 Skyhawk, aka. â€œScooter,â€ has a long and storied career as a carrier-based attack aircraft with the US Navy. Itâ€™s old enough that Sen. John McCain was flying one when he was shot down over North Vietnam. It also has a storied land-based career with the Israeli Air Force, however, which used this simple, pilot-friendly aircraft from late 1967 onward as a versatile attack aircraft with surprising air-air teeth. In one engagement during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an Israeli A-4 Skyhawk found itself facing 3 MiG-21s. The maneuverable little Skyhawk turned on them and brought 2 of them down, and was reportedly on the 3rd Fishbedâ€™s tail when an IAF Mirage IIIC zipped through and blasted the MiG out of the sky. The little A-4â€™s surprising maneuverability was coupled with an equally surprising ability to take battle damage, but the type took heavy losses in the 1973 war: of 102 aircraft lost, 53 were Skyhawks.
Per mission losses in 1973 were just 0.6%, a lower figure than the previous 1970 War of Attrition with Egypt. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall. When the F-16 was made available to Israel, the A-4s began to take a back seat. Some did participate in the 1982 Lebanon War, and one even scored a MiG-17 kill. By that time, however, squadron migrations to the F-16 had already begun, and 33 of the Skyhawks had been sold to Indonesia. By the mid 1990s almost all of Israelâ€™s fighter squadrons had migrated, and 2000-2001 saw a handful of Israeli Skyhawks sold to corporate operators in BAE and ATSI. A number of A-4E/H/N aircraft are currently stored at Ovda Air Base, some planes have been used as electronic warfare support aircraft, and the â€œFlying Tigersâ€ of 102 Squadron at Hatzerim Air Base still use their A-4Ns and 2-seat TA-4Js for advanced IAF pilot training.
These surviving aircraft require maintenance, which was being provided by the contractor Kanfei Tahzuka via Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Unfortunately, the little plane that could appears to have finally met its match. A scandal has grounded Israelâ€™s Skyhawk fleet â€“ and is about to lead to its replacementâ€¦
Dec 10/08: The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli Air Force has finally decided to retire its Skyhawks. It quotes a â€œtop IAF officerâ€:
â€œThe plane is old and we are discovering problemsâ€¦. Because of its age we are finding ourselves investing a lot of attention and resources and therefore we have started the process of searching for a new plane to replace the Skyhawk.â€
Candidates to replace the aircraft include converted IAF F-16A/Bs, Boeingâ€™s license-produced T-45TS Goshawk used by the US Navy, Finmeccanicaâ€™s M346 variant of the Yak-130, and Koreaâ€™s supersonic T-50.
The F-16s are reportedly a low-ranking option, because of the difficulty of transitioning from a primary jet trainer like the Fouga Magister or its T-6A turboprop replacement.
The Goshawk would offer a welcome boost for Boeingâ€™s closing production line, and could be purchased with American military aid dollars. The flip side is that the US Navy has not invested in giving them secondary mission capabilities beyond their training role.
The M346â€™s performance profile and ordnance-carrying capability in a pinch is probably the closest to the Skyhawkâ€™s, but Finmeccanica would have to overcome doubts regarding its long-term political stability as a supplier.
South Koreaâ€™s supersonic T-50 offers the highest potential performance within the group, with the ability to operate as an â€œF-16 Liteâ€ in addition to its training role. Israeli firms have made inroads into the Korean market with their UAVs, and a T-50 order could represent the next step for both countries. An agreement that deepened bilateral defense ties, and included Israeli cooperation toward a T/A-50 with light attack capabilities, would create the most capable option for the IAF, while solving a problem for South Korea. The resulting trainer/ light fighter would have the potential for significant ripple effects in the global arms market. That high potential upside would come with a corresponding cost, however, as this would be Israelâ€™s most expensive option.
Oct 5/08: Israeli newspaper Haâ€™aretz reportes that:
â€œTheMarker found that the contractor failed to conduct checks on the system responsible for maintaining the aircraftâ€™s altitude, as well as its exhaust and brakes systems. Moreover, when technicians found tire and wheel fractures, they were instructed to cover them with lubricant rather than mend the rifts.â€
It is, perhaps, a testament to the aircraftâ€™s ruggedness that no Skyhawk has yet been grounded, or suffered an accident, due to a safety malfunction. Nevertheless, the IAF isnâ€™t about to push its luck. The service conducted a surprise inspection of the maintenance facility following the media reports, and in early October 2008 IAF chief Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan grounded the Skyhawk fleet based on what they had found.
IAI says they have offered complete cooperation with the government since the matter was brought to their attention. The situation remains in limbo, with no reports as yet of charges laid, other punitive action, or the lifting of the flight ban.
Note: The Goshawk is a UK BAE based plane modified and built under license by McD/Boeing. The Goshawk was intended as a direct replacement for their own A-4's in 1998 when the latter was retired from service. But it never filled out that role and is strictly a trainer. Moreover it is the only one of the three which has a never-exceed subsonic performance.
The M-346 is an Italian plane that was originally a joint effort with Yak (Yak-130, Russia). It is highly modified from the original Russian plan.
The F/A-50 is South Korean. Much of the internal works are Lockeed. The plane intended to be both an export light fighter and a transition trainer for RoK pilots into the F-16 which it closely resembles.
So aside from front line fighters, Israel appears to be looking at non US options. This is possibly a good option as it frees the IAF from being shackled to American procurement and restrictions imposed by DoD avionics lock downs.