The Israel Air Force is moving forward with plans to purchase a second squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and hopes to be able to place the order in the coming year and after resolving the standoff with the Treasury over the defense budget.

According to initial plans, the IAF would place the order for the second squadron in late 2012-early 2013 and begin receiving the planes in 2020. It is possible however that the US would attach the new squadron to the one ordered in 2010 and expedite the delivery if the order is placed soon.

Israel finalized the procurement of its first squadron of 20 F-35s in a $2.75 billion deal in October, 2010. The aircraft are manufactured by Lockheed Martin and IAF pilots are expected to begin training on them in the US in 2016 with their planned arrival in Israel in early 2017.

IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, who will step down in April, was a big proponent of the deal and overcame heavy opposition within the defense establishment to gain the government’s approval for the 2010 deal.

His successor, current head of the IDF Planning Directorate Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, was also supportive of the deal and is expected to push for the second squadron immediately after taking up the post in a month.

The fifth-generation stealth F-35 is purported to be one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world with the ability to fly undetected in enemy territory.

Its uniqueness stems not only from its stealth capabilities but also from its integrated sensor suite that provides pilots with unprecedented situational awareness and enables information sharing between the various aircraft.

The second contract would likely be for a similar number of aircraft and could mean – depending on when the second deal is signed – that the IAF could have 40 operational aircraft by the end of the decade. Nehushtan recently decided that the F- 35s would be operated out of the Nevatim air force base in the Negev.

News of the possible procurement of a second squadron comes amid increasing speculation that Israel is preparing to launch an aerial strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In recent years, the IAF has invested in qualifying some of its older model aircraft for long-range strike missions. In addition to the F-15I and F-16I, the IAF has reportedly already qualified an additional two F-15 squadrons for long-range missions armed with smart bombs and conformal fuel tanks.

The IAF is also moving forward with the Barak 2020 program aimed at extending the lifespan of its F-16 C/D models to the next decade.

The first aircraft arrived in the 1980s.

The upgrades include the installation of new systems for avionics, mission-debriefing and flight-control system.

The aircraft will also be fitted with new central display units and high-resolution screens aimed at increasing pilots’ situational awareness.

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