(photo credit: AP)
Despite Israeli fears that Saudi Arabia is on its way to acquiring the stealth Joint Strike Fighter, Israel is the only Middle East country Lockheed Martin is currently in talks with regarding the sale of the fifth-generation jet, a top company executive said Sunday.
Israeli defense officials have recently raised concerns that the US will sell the new jet, also known as the F-35 Lightning II, to Saudi Arabia or even to Egypt - two countries with strong strategic ties with Washington. Due to these concerns, The Defense Ministry is pressing the Pentagon to allow the air force to install Israeli-made systems in the aircraft, which the IAF will likely begin receiving in 2014.
"No other countries in this part of the world are in discussions," Tom Burbage, general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin, told reporters in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Asked about Saudi Arabia, Burbage said there were no talks between Lockheed Martin and Riyadh regarding the plane.
Burbage also revealed that $200 million worth of contracts had been signed with Israeli defense companies involved in the development of systems related to the Joint Strike Fighter. He said this would likely increase to half a billion dollars by the end of the program.
Last week, the Pentagon announced plans to sell Israel up to 75 JSFs in a $15 billion deal. Nine countries - including Britain, Turkey and Australia - are members of the JSF program. Israel is a Security Cooperation Participant after paying $20m. in 2003 to obtain access to information accumulated during the development of the aircraft, which will be priced at approximately $80m. each.
Burbage said Israel would begin receiving the JSF in 2014. To meet that date, the air force will need to sign a contract with the Pentagon by October 2009.
The jet is still under development and is not yet in service, but the US plans to eventually acquire 2,458 planes for its army, Marines and air force at a cost of $300b. The F-35 was designed as a replacement for a range of warplanes, including the F-16, which is a large component of many air forces worldwide.
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