f-35 fighter jet.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The government officially approved plans to buy American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets on Thursday.
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office said that the purchase would significantly strengthen Israel's military, but gave no other details.
Israel is planning on buying 20 of the warplanes for nearly $3 billion and will begin receiving the jets by 2015.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave his personal approval
for the deal in August after months of deliberation.
A fifth-generation stealth jet, the F-35 is said to be capable of evading all radars and anti-aircraft missile systems.
“The F-35 will provide Israel with continued air superiority and help
retain its qualitative military edge in the region,” Barak said last
month. “The plane will provide the air force with improved capabilities
in ensuring Israel’s security when operating near and far away.”
Two main obstacles have slowed down Israeli procurement plans until now –
the price of the aircraft and US opposition to the integration of
Israeli systems into the plane.
The first batch will have a configuration similar to those used by the
US Air Force, with minor changes. The second batch, likely to arrive in
the second half of the decade, will already be designed according to
Israeli specifications and include locally-designed and manufactured
One of the IAF’s main motivations for becoming the first foreign
customer to receive the F-35 is concern that other countries in the
region – particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia – will also be allowed to
purchase the aircraft. Israel, for example, was the first country
outside of the US to purchase F-15s, but Saudi Arabia now operates a
significant number of those fighters and is in talks with the Pentagon
regarding the potential sale of an additional 82.
Defense Ministry Director- General Udi Shani said that one of the
considerations in approving the deal was an American offer of $4 billion
in offset, meaning that it will purchase $4b. worth of military
supplies from Israeli defense industries. Shani said he hoped Israel
would eventually receive $5 billion in offset deals from the US.
At the same time, Israeli defense industries will need to hold
negotiations with Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the JSF, to pursue
possible industrial cooperation. Israel Aerospace Industries, for
example, manufactures wings for all F-16 fighter jets.
The one Israeli company currently involved in the F-35’s production is
Elbit Systems Ltd., whose helmet will be used by JSF pilots.