The US Pentagon has announced that Lockheed Martin received an additional $7.8 billion award to produce another 126 F-35s, part of an earlier contract worth $30b., serving as the final round of the earlier contract in principle for 398 F-35s and deliveries.
This latest round includes 81 F-35A, 26 F-35B and 19 F-35C aircraft, with the vast majority going to the US, and nine going to Italy, seven to the UK, six to Poland, six to Japan, four to Belgium, and three for Denmark.
Israel was notably absent from the list, though Jerusalem has had 36 F-35s since November.
According to the prior contract, Israel is due to receive another 14 in coming years, with about six more aircraft arriving each year.
The F-35 is seen as critical to any potential future airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and has been used to strike advanced Iranian and proxies’ weapons deliveries throughout the region.
However, besides those 50 aircraft, the sides had discussed the possibility of Israel acquiring another 25.
Sources indicated that even if Israel finally makes a decision this year and formally orders the next 25 aircraft, it may take until 2026-2027 for the deliveries to come through.
Simultaneously, Israel has been entertaining the purchase of 25 F-15EX aircraft and finally made some more moves earlier in 2023 on that front.
These aircraft would be brought in to replace the country’s decades-old F-15 squadrons, whereas the F-36-50 F-35 aircraft are all relatively new – from 2016 and later.
Unclear if Israel will proceed on these fronts
It has been unclear if Israel would move forward on both of these fronts.
On one hand, the F-15 aircraft often carries more firepower and can be said to be better in a head-to-head fight with other aircraft.
On the other hand, the F-35 has stealth technology which makes it more able to strike targets throughout the Middle East with impunity and its surveillance and intelligence capabilities far exceed the F-15.
For example, it is said to be easily capable of outwitting the S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system, possibly even the S-400 system, whereas other aircraft would have more trouble.
In total, the global F-35 program has been projected to reach $412b. in sales for around 3,000 aircraft worldwide.
To date, Lockheed has sold over 900 aircraft which have flown over 651,000 flight hours.
Nine countries are already operating the aircraft and they have flown over 386,000 sorties.
Reduced orders due to technical malfunctions
On the other hand, the US and others have reduced orders due to continuous technical malfunctions.
In mid-December 2022, an F-35 aircraft crashed in the US, leading both America and Israel to ground a significant portion of their F-35 fleets.
For an extended period, there have been issues with the F-35’s cockpit software technology.
Still, as of March, a technical fix was approved for the defect which caused the 2022 crash and deliveries were resumed.
Also, Lockheed Martin has gotten a boost from the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has led several countries to request more F-35s to defend themselves from potential Russian aggression.