US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is hugged by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon at an Honor Cordon at the Pentagon, October 21.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday praised the “unbreakable alliance” with the US, and described Washington as Israel’s “greatest friend,” on which the Jewish state is strategically reliant.
The defense minister spoke at the unveiling of an Israel Aerospace Industries production line at its at its Lod plant, where wings for the F-35 single- seat, single-engine, stealth fighters will be produced.
“The US supplied Israel throughout the years with wide-scale assistance, particularly in the defense field, and it is the one that assists Israel in standing up to challenges,” Ya’alon said. “As someone who has for years accompanied these special relations, I am deeply moved every time by the depth of the ties and the intimacy between the defense establishments, and the militaries that are at their helm. In a changing and stormy Middle East, where one does not know what the next day will bring, these are important ties, like no other.”
“This is the time to say it again, in a loud and clear voice: The deep ties between the US and Israel are stronger than any division. An argument, as harsh as it may be, will not darken relations between the countries and the gratitude felt by Israelis to the US and its role in our defense and power.”
IAI’s production center is a sign of Israel’s power, Ya’alon continued.
“Here, at IAI plants, as well as the rest of Israeli defense industries, we discover on a daily basis the excellence, quality and creativeness, the ability to think the furthest, and to get there, too,” he said.
IAI signed a contract with Lockheed Martin in April 2013 for the production of the F-35 wings. The facility will feature a state-of-the-art automated production center, featuring strict control of humidity and temperature conditions, and ensure protection of the environment during the production process, IAI said.
The upper layer of the wings comprises composite materials, developed especially for the F-35 aircraft.
IAI will begin delivering the wings in mid-2015. The contract’s duration is for some 10 to 15 years, with potential sales reaching $2.5 billion.
IAI LAHAV ’s wing production center has manufactured wings for Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and the United States’ Air Force T-38 training aircraft, as well as assemblies for other aircraft and customers.
Ya’alon said these capabilities were driven by the knowledge that “if we are not the best, the most advanced, the most sophisticated, we simply will not be. This is the secret of our power and existence. This is our power. Our minds and hearts, spirit and knowledge.”
He said the F-35 fighter jet will be at the forefront of the world’s leading militaries, including the Israel Air Force. Ya’alon praised the jets’ manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, for its commitment to the project, and to long-term cooperation with Israel.
The Pentagon and American defense industries choose to work with Israeli defense industries “time after time on the most advanced products,” the defense minister said.
Referring to those seeking significant cut to the defense budget, Ya’alon warned that “narrow political interests” aim to harm the defense establishment, tarnish its personnel, and endanger the livelihood of thousands of defense industry employees in the north and south of the country.
Rafi Maor, IAI’s chairman of the board, said at the ceremony, “Today’s milestone represents a new phase in our partnership with Lockheed Martin which goes back over decades. IAI is proud to elevate this partnership as we mark the launch of the assembly line of one of the most important elements of the F-35 fighter jet – its wings that will carry the world’s most advanced fighter jet to new heights.”
He added, “By 2030, IAI will have produced more than 800 F-35 wing-sets.
With a production rate currently set at about four wing-sets per month, we will deliver the first set of wings to Lockheed Martin by mid-next year.”