(photo credit: IAI)
A delegation of Defense Ministry officials in the US signed a contract this weekend finalizing the purchase of 14 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35A fighter jets, marking a milestone in Israel’s military force buildup for the coming decade.
The stealth F-35 fighter jet has an ability to detect and destroy targets that are on the ground and in the air from longer ranges than any other previous fighter-jet platform.
Its situational awareness and ability to network with other platforms are the most advanced of any fighter jet.
Israel is to receive this fifth-generation platform with specially adapted Israeli- made weapons systems and avionics on board.
The plane’s ability to launch advanced electronic warfare and other capabilities – the kind that can paralyze enemy missile systems and silence command and control networks during missions – remain classified, but it is believed that these offensive capabilities are the most advanced yet.
Due to a long list of technical problems that have appeared in the past, the platform’s high cost has generated criticism over the course of the F-35’s development. But Israeli defense officials hold that these problems have been overcome by the plane’s makers, Lockheed Martin, adding that a combination of money and time were sufficient to deal successfully with all issues.
The officials say they have full confidence in the F-35. Additionally, it is unreasonable to expect the air force to continue flying aging fighter jets, some of which were manufactured 30 years ago, indefinitely.
The F-35 should enable Israel to deal with threats near and far, providing the kind of operational flexibility that is needed in an unpredictable, dangerous and highly armed region.
The platform helps the Israel Air Force deal with close enemies, like the hybrid semi-state terrorist armies of Hamas and Hezbollah; further threats, like Iran; and radical Sunni entities that may pop up in the coming years on the map.
Had the defense establishment gotten its way, the ministry would have announced the signature of 31, not 14, additional F-35 planes. In addition to the 19 bought by Israel in 2010, that would have given the IAF 50 jets – enough to create two full squadrons.
But doubts expressed by the ministerial military procurement committee last November resulted in a cut to the number of jets from the original number requested by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Nevertheless, defense officials remain confident that the 17 lacking planes will be bought in the coming years, enabling the completion of the second squadron.
The latest deal brings the total number of planes bought in the two deals by Israel to 33, at an average cost of $110 million per plane.
The second F-35 deal cost $2.82 billion, and includes development and integration of Israeli combat systems and avionics in the planes.
The package deal includes logistical support, fight and ground crew training, replacement parts and maintenance in Israel.
The Defense Ministry said setting up maintenance facilities in Israel will inject tens of millions of shekels into the local defense industry.
The F-35 represents an opportunity for Israeli defense industries to contribute to a fighter jet that will form the lead of air power in air forces around the world.
Israel has in the past signed a cooperation agreement with Lockheed Martin and Pratt and Whitney, worth $688m., to integrate Israeli defense industries in project.
As a result, Elbit Systems won a contract to create helmet-mounted displays for the F-35 and additional components, while Israel Aerospace Industries is to manufacture wings for the plane at its production line in central Israel.
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