The new production line at the Israel Aerospace Industries plant produces the wings for the US-built F-35 jet fighter..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the coming years, the F-35 jet fighter will dominate air forces around the world. A senior executive from the plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, shed light this week on how the Israel Air Force’s first squadrons will most likely look like.
Patrick M. Dewar, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International, affirmed that the F-35 Lightning II program for Israel is on schedule. Speaking in Tel Aviv, he said Lockheed would begin delivering the first of a batch of 19 fully operational jets to the IAF starting in December 2016.
But if the US and Israel manage to come to fresh agreement on more acquisitions, as they appear to be close to doing, Israel will order an additional 31 planes, enabling the IAF to fly two squadrons of 25 jets each in the years to come.
Last month, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon came to an agreement with US Secretary of State Chuck Hagel in Washington over a second Israeli squadron.
Later, Israel may choose to acquire another 50 jets, enabling it to operate four squadrons. Senior defense sources noted last month that past Israeli governments have expressed an interest of creating at least three F-35 squadrons.
Israel is one of three F-35 customers under a Lockheed Martin global sustainment package, Dewar said on Tuesday.
That means the company has drawn up a wide-ranging plan for delivering the jets and assisting the IAF in maintaining the new platforms.
Lockheed Martin is working with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to research quantum computing, a field the US defense giant has expressed a deep interest in, as signaled by its recent investment in the Canadian-based D-Wave quantum computing company.
The IAF might also be significantly expanding its fleet of Super Hercules C-130J transports. Israel has already received two of the next generation transport planes, finalized orders for two more, and appears close to purchasing a fifth and sixth plane. After that, Dewar said, talks may begin on acquiring three more planes.
Dewar said Lockheed Martin will also continue to partner with Israeli defense firms to jointly develop new weapons systems.