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Israel inched a step closer to acquiring the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) after Lockheed Martin over the weekend rolled out the new jet, also known as the F-35, in a grand ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas.
During the ceremony, Lockheed Martin announced the official name for the stealth jet - Lightning II, which will be priced at between $40 million and $50m.
"The F-35 Lightning II will carry on the legacy of two of the greatest and most capable fighter aircraft of all time," said Ralph D. Heath, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, referring to the World War II-era P-38 Lightning and the Lightning supersonic jet of the 1950s.
Attendees at the event on Friday included US Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley.
The inaugural flight of the first F-35 is planned for later this year. Fifteen F-35s will undergo flight tests, seven will be used for static tests and another will validate the aircraft's radar signature.
The rollout comes a month after it was reported that Israel's Defense Ministry was considering dropping out of the project in protest of Pentagon refusal to allow the IAF to integrate Israeli technology into the aircraft, as it has done with earlier fighter jets purchased from the US, including the F-15 and the F-16.
In 2003, Israel paid $20 million to join the JSF project with observer status, which brought access to information accumulated during the development of the jet.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy denied that Israel was considering canceling plans to purchase the jet. "The Joint Strike Fighter will come to Israel, I hope in the middle of the next decade," he said.
Shkedy said Israel was "working with the Americans" and would eventually be able to add "special Israeli systems" to the aircraft, including arming and defense systems.
"We intend to do that with the JSF, as we do with all our F-15s and F-16s and helicopters," he said. "All that, and the excellent people, is what gives the IAF its excellence... There's no crisis," he said.
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