Warplanes: Skyhawk Sticks Around


March 3, 2009:  Israel is now planning to replace its current advanced jet trainer, elderly A-4 light bombers, with its older F-16s. Israel had been shopping for a new trainer, and planned to scrap the remaining A-4s when a replacement was found. But now the plan is to keep the A-4s in use for at least another five years, then phase in the use of older F-16s as trainer aircraft.

So now, after four decades of use, Israel is finally getting rid of the last of its U.S. made A-4 Skyhawk light bombers. Israel bought over 200 in the 1960s and 70s, and lost 53 to ground fire and missiles during the 1973 war. Later, most were sold or retired. The remaining 22 are used for pilot training. But some of these have crashed, as the A-4 isn't a great trainer aircraft, given their age and high maintenance cost.

When Israel bought the second-hand U.S. A-4s, it did so because the aircraft cost a quarter what an F-4 fighter-bomber did, and could carry as many weapons. Thus the heavy losses in the 1973 war (because Israel underestimated the capabilities of new Russian surface-to-air missile systems, and numerous anti-aircraft gun systems, the Arabs now had).

The 11 ton A-4 could carry about four tons of bombs, along with two 20mm autocannon. Smart bombs make it unnecessary to have a lot of fighter-bombers, much less lower cost light bombers like the A-4. Thus the use of A-4s as pilot training aircraft, a job they were not really designed for, but performed adequately at. Ultimately, Israel will have used A-4s for nearly half a century by the time the last of them are gone.



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