Israel is working on two large procurement deals with the United States for jet fighters and helicopters to upgrade two IAF squadrons.
Following the establishment of its first F-35 stealth squadron, the force, Defense Ministry and US arms companies are said to be working on the next deal, projected to total several billion dollars.With Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meeting with top officials in the Trump administration in Washington this week, it is likely that these deals will be discussed.Funding is to come from part of the MoU signed in September between Jerusalem and Washington that would provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, to include American- designed weapons systems such as the F-35, the world’s most advanced stealth fighter, two of which Israel took delivery in December. With at least $7 billion of the MoU earmarked for purchasing the F-35s, Israel is set to receive 50 of the planes to form two full squadrons by 2022.Following the signing of the agreement, then-US national security adviser Susan Rice said that “This additional funding will allow Israel to update the lion’s share of its fighter aircraft fleet, including the acquisition of additional F-35s and F-15s.”The exact cost of the deals and the types of aircraft involved will be decided only after the military’s budget is finalized in the framework of the IDF’s multiyear Gideon plan and the implementation of the MoU, which takes effect on October 1, 2018. The deal reportedly includes advanced versions of the F-15 or a variant of the F-35.Most of the Israel Air Force’s aircraft are approaching 30 years old, and most of its F-15s are out of date, with the majority acquired in the second half of the 1970s. A more advanced version of the F-15, the F-15I, arrived in Israel in the 1990s.In December, the air force retired the remaining F-16A and F-16B (Netz) fighter jets, which had made up the backbone of the IAF. The remaining planes, the F-16C/D Barak, and one of the most advanced F-16s, the F-16I Soufa, gives Israel the largest contingent of F-16s outside the United States, with more than 300 of the jets. All the aircraft have been heavily modified with Israeli-made avionics, self-protection systems, radar and advanced weapons, such as the Python 4 and 5 air-to-air missiles and the Popeye and Spice AGM’s. The F-15 model that Israel is interested in purchasing is able to carry larger quantities of various types of munitions, advanced radar systems, and various other upgrades than the earlier models. Since it is not a stealth plane, Boeing has designed its wings to be able to carry additional bombs and missiles. The F-35 stealth fighter is more limited in the weapons it can carry, as they have to be stored internally in order to maintain a low radar signature.In addition to new fighters, the Defense Ministry has also inquired about purchasing new heavy transport helicopters as part of the MoU in order to replace the aging fleet of CH-53 Sea Stallions (Yasur), in service since 1969.While they have been upgraded with new electronics and a missile defense system, the IAF will need to replace them by 2025, when they will be over 50 years old.
F-35 fighter jets take their first flight over Israel, December 13, 2016 (credit: IDF SPOKESMAN)