US aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin today announced that it had selected Elbit Systems Ltd. to operate the new training center for F-35 stealth fighter aircraft that it plans to build in the Nevatim airbase in the Negev, one month before the scheduled arrival of the first of the 33 modern F-35s ordered by Israel from the US manufacturer.
Due to the high costs of flight time in the stealth fighter, at least 50% of the training and instruction in operating its systems will take place in advanced simulators, thereby saving a great deal of money on the training processes for the pilots who will fly the advanced fighters. Lockheed Martin will manage the new training center, and according to the company's announcement, Elbit will operate it, after having won a recent tender. The final agreement between Lockheed Martin and Elbit will be formulated in the coming months, and the training center itself will be ready for complete operation over the coming year.
Neither Elbit Systems nor Lockheed Martin have disclosed particulars about the full price of the agreement between them, but informed sources estimated the amount at several million shekels. Elbit Systems is very experienced in operating pilots' training centers for a variety of aircraft, and the company provides outsourcing services to the air force in operating a training center for F-15 and F-16 airplanes at the air force base in Hatzor.
Concerning its selection of Elbit, Lockheed Martin said today, "Over the past three decades, the company has acquired a great deal of experience in trainers and simulators, and is a world leader in high-tech display. Its advanced systems are in operational use by leading armies around the world."
Lockheed Martin has manufactured 200 F-35s that have accumulated more than 73,000 flying hours to date, with over 350 pilots flying them. Towards the beginning of supplying these aircraft to the Israeli air force, the maintenance personnel selected by the air force began training six months ago in supporting and operating the F-35 at the US air force base at Eglin, Florida. A group of Israeli pilots assigned to fly the new plane have been undergoing special training for it since July at the US air force base at Luke, Arizona.
According to figures published three months ago by the Israel Ministry of Defense, industrial cooperation between Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense companies following the agreement for the acquisition of the Stealth fighter amounts to $993 million.
Elbit is involved in this project through the advanced pilot helmets it is supplying to Lockheed Martin, and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) is responsible for production of the aircraft's wings through an innovate production line developed for the purpose.