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Senior officials from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin were in Israel on Tuesday for talks with the Defense Ministry, in an effort to convince Israel to overcome concerns and go ahead with plans to purchase the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Leading the Lockheed Martin delegation was Senior Vice President for Strategy & Business Development Bob Trice, who met Tuesday with Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris, as well as with senior officials from the air force and the IDF's Planning Division.
According to senior defense officials, Lockheed Martin is concerned that Israel will not follow through with its initial plan to sign a contract for some 25 aircraft in the coming months. If the contract is not signed, there are concerns that other countries will follow suit and possibly slow down their procurement plans as well.
In July, the Defense Ministry submitted an official letter of request to the Pentagon to purchase its first squadron of 25 F-35 stealth fighter jets, but officials said Tuesday that the target date for a contract at the beginning of 2010 would likely not be met. As a result, the arrival of the aircraft - initially predicted to begin in 2014 - would likely be postponed by at least one or two years.
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.
In the negotiations, Israeli demands have focused on three issues: the integration of Israeli-made 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.
Another obstacle has been the price of the plane, which according to recent estimates will reach $140 million, according to Israeli specifications.
Defense officials said it was possible that if Israel waited several years to purchase the aircraft, it would be able to procure it for a lower price. Waiting, the officials said, would also reduce the chances of technical malfunctions, since they would be discovered and solved by the owners of the first batch of the jets.