Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday submitted an official Letter of Request (LOR) to the US and to Lockheed Martin for the purchase of a third squadron of 25 F-35 aircraft, which will eventually bring Israel’s total complement to 75 aircraft.
The LOR was submitted to the US's Joint Program Office (JPO) after an announcement on July 2 that Israel had internally approved seeking the additional 25 F-35 aircraft and would now start working on eventually submitting an LOR, culminating in Sunday's announcement.
“We are proud to support the Israeli Defense Forces in providing the F-35, and honored that the Israeli government has announced its intent to purchase additional F-35s”Joshua Shani, Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Israel
A statement from the ministry finally gave a timeline of Israel starting to receive three aircraft per year, starting in 2027.
Previous estimates had been a bit more optimistic, predicting deliveries to come through in 2026-2027.
The F-35 is considered crucial in the MABAM “war between wars” against Iranian proxies in Syria as well as in the event that the IDF would need to eventually strike Iran’s nuclear program.
It 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 Israel’s older F-16 and F-15 aircraft.
For example, it is said to be easily capable of outwitting Iran’s S-300 anti aircraft missile defense system, and possibly even the S-400 system, whereas other Israeli aircraft would have more trouble.
Gallant said he approved the purchase upon the recommendation of IDF chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir, and Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar.
Sources have indicated that this purchase could have happened years ago, but was held up by political instability due to the many rounds of elections which negatively impacted Israel’s ability to put together longer-term budget plans, even for some defense issues.
The LOR will facilitate the approval and signing of the transaction in the coming months.
The value of the deal is approximately $3 billion, financed by US aid funds. As part of the original agreement between the governments, Lockheed Martin, and the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, have committed to involving Israel’s defense industries in the production of aircraft components which are being bought.
“This new agreement will ensure the continuation of cooperation between American companies and Israeli defense industries in the production of aircraft parts,” said a ministry statement.
Joshua (Shiki) Shani, Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin Israel responded in July, “We are proud to support the Israeli Defense Forces in providing the F-35, and honored that the Israeli government has announced its intent to purchase additional F-35s.”
“The Israeli Air Force has proven its capabilities in critical operations with the 116 and 140 Squadrons, and we are looking forward to building on this strong performance. With a combination of stealth, sensor fusion and electronic warfare, the 5th Generation F-35 will ensure the Israeli Air Force stays ahead of current and evolving threats,” he said.
At the same time, over the last year, Israel has moved forward on some parallel advancements and investments in the air force’s future.
After years of delay, the Defense Ministry in January officially requested 25 F-15 EX Boeing fighters from the US to help replace its aging F-15 aircraft.
In November 2022, Israel finalized an agreement to purchase four Boeing KC-46A midair refueling aircraft.
Each of those new aircraft elements are also some years from being delivered to Israel, but would also eventually boost Jerusalem’s capability for attacking Tehran’s nuclear program, if needed.
Not a perfect record
The F-35’s record has not been perfect.
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.