(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Defense Ministry will closely follow discussions in Congress next month over the United States' 2010 fiscal defense budget amid growing speculation that a ban on foreign sales of the stealth F-22 fighter jet may be lifted to keep the threatened production line alive.
Israel has in the past expressed interest in the fifth-generation aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin, but has been unable to place an order due to a congressional ban on foreign exports. In addition to Israel, Japan and Australia have also expressed interest in the aircraft.
A single-seater and double engine aircraft, the F-22 achieves stealth though a combination of its shape, composite materials, color and other integrated systems and can fly in enemy airspace without being detected.
Israel has had its sights on the F-22 since its development began in the early 1990s. It is today the only 5th generation fighter jet fully operational with stealth capabilities and is called the "Raptor" by the US Air Force which operates squadrons out of Langley, Virginia, Florida and New Mexico.
The future of the F-22 program is in question, however, as officials in the Obama administration have hinted recently that the Pentagon may decide to shut down the production line due to its high cost - as much as $150 million a piece.
The proposed base budget for 2010 will be $534 billion and the Pentagon is working on preparing a list of which development programs it plans to phase out.
But Israeli defense officials said there was a possibility that in order to keep the program afloat, Congress may decide to permit the sale of the advanced jet to foreign countries such as Israel.
"If this happens we will definitely want to review the possibility of purchasing the F-22," explained a top military source. "In order to have strong deterrence and to win a conflict we need to have the best aircraft that exists."
The Defense Ministry and the Pentagon are currently in advanced negotiations ahead of the planned signing of a contract for the order of at least 25 Joint Strike Fighters, also known as the F-35. A number of top IAF pilots recently visited the US to fly in the JSF simulator and returned to Israel with positive impressions.
Defense officials would not say whether a decision in Congress on lifting the export ban on the F-22 would have an impact on Israel's decision on the JSF but said that the issue would need to be reviewed. It was possible that if the F-22 was opened for foreign sales that the IAF would decide to postpone the procurement of the JSF by a number of years, the officials said.