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At Hatzerim Airbase

To get a look at the F-16I fighter jet, I visited the sprawling Hatzerim Airbase, located in the Negev Desert, outside of the Israeli city of Be'er Sheva.

At the base, there was a concrete lot housing about half a dozen F-16Is, including this one.

Published:Caption:Photo:Ben Fox Rubin/CNET
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An advanced fighter jet

The F-16I, one of Israel's most-advanced fighter jets, is an Israeli-modified version of the Lockheed Martin aircraft that has been a mainstay of the US military.

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Built with high-tech systems

The F-16I is less nimble than its simpler, lighter sibling, the F-16A, but it makes up for that with a more powerful radar system and other technologies.

An F-16I fuel tank, tucked under the wing, is pictured here.

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The cockpit

The jet, nicknamed "Sufa," Hebrew for "storm," entered service in 2004. It's equipped with JDAM GPS-guided bombs, as well as Python 5 heat-seeking rockets and radar-guided missiles.

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Safety first

The F-16I's wingspan is about 33 feet (10 meters), and the jet is about 49 feet (15 meters) long.

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Introducing Captain R.

Captain R., a 25-year-old pilot with the Israeli Air Force, showed me around the airbase and discussed the F-16I, which he's been flying as part of combat duty for the past year.

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A high-tech helmet

Captain R., whose name and face weren’t published to protect his identity, uses a specialized helmet that includes a projector to display flight information on his visor and a camera to document his missions.

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A homegrown technology

The helmet-mounted display was created by Elbit Systems, an Israel-based defense contractor.

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The F-16I's inlet

A “Litening” targeting and navigation camera pod, created by Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, can sit directly below the inlet, shown here.

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A speed demon

The jet's high-altitude speed is over Mach 2.

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A workhorse jet

Captain R. flew a F-16I for daily missions during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

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Fuel up

In the concrete lot, several small shelters held jet fuel tanks.

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The Arrow system

I also visited the Menashe regional military base to talk to Col. Yoni Saada Marom, who showed me the Arrow intercontinental missile-defense system.

We're standing right next to an Arrow battery, but unfortunately due to a military exercise that day, I was barred from taking pictures of the system.

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Visiting the Iron Dome

About an hour's drive south near the city of Ashkelon, I saw the Iron Dome, a mobile, rapid-response missile defense system Israel brought to the battlefield in 2011.

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An Iron Dome standing ready

Here's an active Iron Dome battery, used to protect Ashkelon from rocket fire from Gaza nearby.

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The Iron Dome base

A small base with a handful of soldiers operated the Iron Dome, maintained in an open field at the end of a dirt road.

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