Not since the first planes of Israel’s then-new fleet of F-15 jet fighters touched down in the Jewish state on a Friday night, after the start of the Sabbath in December 1976 – spurring the National Religious party to quit the coalition and topple Yitzhak Rabin’s government – has there been a more embarrassing episode for the air force than what happened on Monday.
Hundreds of people attending the ceremonial landing of the air force’s first two F-35 stealth fighter jets in Israel at 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday were forced to wait for several long hours as the planes remain grounded in Italy due to fog.
The ceremony, which was eventually delayed until 7:30 p.m., was attended by the prime minister, the defense minister, outgoing US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, the IDF chief of staff, the commander of the air force and other dignitaries.
The delay seemed particularly odd, because the plane’s manufacturers, spokespeople and Israel Air Force officials boasted that this was the most advanced plane in the world, capable of evading radar. Suddenly it was delayed at the airport in Italy because of low visibility and fog. It is even stranger, because other planes in Italian airspace continued to take off and land while the F-35s were grounded.
A senior air force officer explained that, in consultation with the US and Italy, it was decided that because it was a procedural flight and not an operational flight, it was decided to ground the takeoff in order not to endanger the American pilots and the planes.
Apparently, when it rains it pours. Also on Monday, US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that the F-35’s manufacturer, Lockheed- Martin, was “out of control.” He was referring to the many technical problems that had cropped up during the development stage of the jet which cost billions of dollars allocated to the company from the pockets of American taxpayers.
Trump clarified that he intends to save billions of dollars by decreasing the number of F-35s that the US Air Force will purchase.
This is bad news for Israel.
It means that the production cost of each plane will now increase even more.It is estimated that each F-35 costs the Israel Air Force some $100 million. Just recently the government decided to increase the order and purchase 50 planes.
The funding comes from the American aid package. If Trump follows through on his comments, the 50 planes that Israel purchases in the next decade will be several billion dollars more expensive and will come at the expese of the purchase of other American weapons or will require increasing Israel’s defense budget. And the defense budget’s increase, as always, will come at the expense of health, education and welfare.
While it is true that Israel’s joining the select group of countries that decided to purchase the F-35 (Britain, Turkey, Australia, South Korea, Norway, Italy, Denmark and more) puts the air force at the forefront of international technology and provides it with a further qualitative advantage in the skies of the Middle East.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that, at the same time, the argument continues in the Unites States and elsewhere over the quality of the F-35 and its abilities.
Is it indeed the best plane in the world, or does it have limited capabilities that fall short of the praises heaped on it by its advocates?
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