(photo credit: IAI)
Despite some criticisms from within the cabinet, the defense establishment is confident that Israel’s plan to purchase two full squadrons of F-35 fighter jets will go ahead.
The defense establishment is determined to ensure that the Israel Air Force will eventually receive 50 F-35 jets, forming two squadrons of 25 jets each.
This, despite comments on Monday by ministerial acquisitions committee member Yuval Steinitz, who said he would like Israel to purchase half the number of jets in the second batch than previously mentioned by defense sources in both countries.
Steinitz said Israel should place a second order for between 10 and 15 US-made F-35 fighter jets. But those comments were later shrugged off by defense officials. A final decision is expected shortly.
Lockheed will begin delivering the first of a batch of 19 fully operational jets to the IAF starting December 2016.
If the US and Israel manage to come to fresh agreement on more acquisitions, which they appear to be close to doing, Israel will order an additional 31 planes, enabling the IAF to fly two squadrons made up of 25 fighter jets each, in the years to come.
Israel bought 19 F-35s for $2.75 billion in 2010, with delivery scheduled between 2016 and 2018. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, visiting the United States last month, agreed on a preliminary deal for 31 more planes subject to approval by the ministerial committee.
Steinitz cited misgivings about whether the F-35’s range, payload and maneuverability would suit Israel’s needs. “We are not the Defense Ministry’s rubber stamp,” he said.
The ministerial committee, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has met four times to discuss the F-35 purchase, twice deferring deadlines on a decision.
The 2010 F-35 deal gave Israel the option of buying 75 planes in total – three squadrons.
Another Israeli official linked the resistance Ya’alon was meeting from cabinet colleagues to the July-August war in Gaza, which ended inconclusively and triggered calls for more investment in armored troop carriers and munitions.
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