The first Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jet, due to be delivered to Israel later this year, has entered an advanced production stage.

To mark the event, the head of the Defense Ministry’s delegation to the US, Aharon Marmaroush, visited Lockheed Martin’s production plant in Fort Worth, Texas, and inscribed a message on the frame of the future IAF jet, dubbed Adir.

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“The aircraft, designated as F-35A aircraft AS-1, officially began its mate process, where the four major components of the 5th generation fighter aircraft are joined together in the Electronic Mate and Assembly Station to form the aircraft’s structure. AS-1 will continue its assembly here and is expected to roll out of the factory in June and be delivered to the Israeli Air Force later this year,” Lockheed Martin said.

“This is a historic day for the Defense Ministry and the State of Israel,” Marmaroush said. “F-35 jets from the advanced fifth generation, purchased by the Defense Ministry, will march the air force onward and upwards, and will significantly improve its abilities to protect the State of Israel from a wide range of threats,” he added.

Jeff Babione, head of the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin, said the plane would upgrade Israel’s tactical and strategic capabilities, and strengthen relations between the company and the IAF, Defense Ministry, and Israeli defense industries for many decades to come.

Israel has purchased 33 F-35A fighters jets at an average cost of $110 million per aircraft. The first two aircraft are due to arrive at the Negev’s Nevatim airbase in December this year, and the air force is preparing to integrate them into its operations.

The remainder of the planes are due to arrive in Israel by 2021. Israel signed its first contract for 19 jets in 2010, and then a second contract for the acquisition of 14 jets in 2014, with an option of buying another 17 in the future.

Israel has recently held talks with the US over the possible purchase of F-35B short take off and vertical landing variants, which would enable the IAF to use airbases even if their runways are damaged by enemy rocket or missile fire.

Elbit Systems manufactures the plane’s Helmet Mounted Display Systems, while Israel Aerospace Industries is manufacturing wings for the aircraft.

Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s engine makers, Pratt and Whitney, signed a contract in 2010 with the Defense Ministry for reciprocal purchases from Israeli defense industries worth $775m.

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