Israel says it will buy 17 more highly sophisticated F-35 fighter jets from the United States. The purchase, approved by the country’s security cabinet, will bring the total number of the advanced aircraft in the Israeli fleet to 50. The first jet of the new purchase order is expected to be delivered in just a few weeks.
Lockheed-Martin builds the F-35, which is designed to avoid enemy radar even while flying at supersonic speeds.
It also is one of the most expensive pieces of military equipment the U.S. military has in its arsenal.
Israeli public radio quotes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying the planes will strengthen Israeli security and ensure the country's existence for decades.
"Israel can defend itself with its own forces against all its enemies, whatever the distance," he is quoted as saying.
Russian airstrikes in neighboring Syria along with Iranian threats to wipe out the Jewish state have made Israel wary of the dangers it faces in its unstable backyard.
The F-35 purchase is part of the 10-year, $38 billion U.S. military aid package for Israel President Barack Obama signed in September.
Of the 33 F-35 stealth fighter planes purchased by Israel, the first two will be delivered in three weeks, landing at Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel. Another round of purchases of this advanced, expensive, and controversial fighter is already around the corner. A decision is likely in the coming weeks, with the security cabinet being asked to approve the Ministry of Defense plan to buy 17 more planes.
The first 33 planes were purchased in two series: the first for $2.75 billion and the second for $2.82 billion, including infrastructure, parts, and training simulators.
"33 warplanes is an impossible number," Lockheed Martin Israel CE Brigadier General (ret.) Joshua Shani, who led the development and production plan for the advanced aircraft, told "Globes". "33 are too many for one squadron and two few for two squadrons. The cabinet previously decided to buy 33 planes with an option for 17 more, which will make it possible to maintain two squadrons, and now they have to exercise the option.”
"Globes": How long will it be before Israel has two such squadrons of 25 planes each?
Shani: "I estimate that delivery of 50 planes can be completed by 2022. The time table can also be brought forward, with delivery being completed by 2021.”
What Israel wants to put in this plane is a story in itself
. The US did not want to hear about the plans of the Israeli air force to do to the F-35 what it does to every airplane it buys: replacement of the original systems with systems made by Israeli defense companies, all of them secret, in order to adapt the planes' performance to the IDF's needs.
…/… [But] they softened up, and we're already at a point at which all the Israeli requests have been accepted: all the electronic warfare, command and control, and communications systems installed in the plane are Israeli-made
So the Israeli F-35 and the US F-35 are substantially different?
"'Substantially different' is an exaggeration, but yes, the Israeli plane is better for fulfilling the needs of the Israel Air Force, because the US doesn't have the secret systems installed on the Israeli version, such as an internal communications system between the planes and air control. The US has its own good systems, but they are different.
“Israel always wanted its own independent electronic warfare systems; if a new Russian missile is brought to the region, these systems can change the capabilities of its planes within a short time and adapt them to a new threat in the area. It takes the US months to make such changes, and we don't always have this amount of time."
Israeli companies profit
The Israeli defense companies, which were anxious before the signing of the first stealth fighters deal about the possibility that their systems would not be given access to Lockheed Martin's super-secret plane, have now been quiet for years about Israel's F-35 procurement program. When these companies forbear talking about something, it is usually because it is good for them.
This is very understandable, because figures from both the Ministry of Defense and Lockheed Martin indicate that the Israeli companies taking part in the venture will make enormous profits. The main such companies are Elbit Systems Ltd., which is supplying the pilots' helmets for all the stealth fighters produced to date, and for thousands more to be produced in the coming years, and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI), which has started a special production line in its facilities in Lod, where it is manufacturing 811 pairs of wings for these planes.
The agreements signed by Lockheed Martin with Israeli companies in this project amount to nearly $1 billion, and Shani says that there is more to come: "The Israeli companies are making big profits from this - billions of dollars. If Israel decides to procure a total of 75 F-35s, $4.3 billion will come into the Israeli companies. IAI and Elbit Systems will be guaranteed work for many years ahead." (end of excerpt)
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