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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A deal is close to completion for the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter jet after the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon recently reached understandings on a number of IAF demands to integrate Israeli technology into the plane.
The apparent breakthrough was made following a series of visits to Washington recently by OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan and IAF Equipment and Procurement head Brig.-Gen. Kobi Bortman. Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with top officials from Lockheed Martin - the F-35 manufacturer - on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.
Also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the F-35 will be one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world and will enable Israel to phase out some of its older F-15 and F-16 models.
According to senior IDF officers, the Defense Ministry and Pentagon have reached understandings on most of the major issues at the core of disagreement between the parties.
"There is understanding today on the main basic issues," explained one top officer.
As first reported in The Jerusalem Post, the IAF demands focused on three issues - the integration of Israeli electronic warfare systems into the plane, the integration of Israeli communication systems, and the ability to independently maintain the plane in the event of a technical or structural problem.
According to top officials involved in the deal, the Americans have given their consent and will grant Israel independent maintenance capabilities.
One of the US's main concerns regarding the installation of Israeli systems was that it would require configurations to the jet's internal computer system and expose top-secret technology to Israel.
In the recent round of talks, however, the Israeli side presented the Americans with a proposal of how to bypass the computer mainframe when installing the systems. The sides have yet to agree on a final price.
Israel has argued that due to operational requirements, it needs to have the ability to repair damaged or broken computer systems in "real time" and cannot wait for a computer system to be sent to Europe for repairs in the middle of a war.
Negotiations on the integration of Israeli technology began several years ago after Israel paid $20 million to receive the low-level status of a Security Cooperation Participant in the JSF program. Nine countries - including the US, Britain, Turkey and Australia - are full members of the JSF program.
If the sides reach a complete understanding, as expected, the IAF plans to issue an official letter of request for the plane in the coming weeks. The letter will be followed by the signing of a contract in 2010.
The first stage of the deal will be the purchase of 25 aircraft, which will comprise the first Israeli F-35 squadron. According to Lockheed Martin, if the letter of request is issued this year, delivery of the planes will begin in 2014.
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