Major delays in the production of the fifth-generation stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will likely lead to the postponement of Israel’s procurement plans, which initially set the signing of a contract by the end of March.One top IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the Defense Ministry was unlikely to sign a letter of agreement (LOA) with the Pentagon before the end of 2010.“Everything now appears to be pushed off by at least a year,” the senior officer said. On Sunday night, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi flew to Washington for talks with top Pentagon officials. Ashkenazi plans to speak with his American counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, and other Pentagon officials about the delays in the production of the JSF and how it will affect the IDF.Last week, US Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said that the service’s plan to use the F-35 will probably be delayed by two years and cost significantly more than the $130 million initially expected.Donley said that the F-35 would not be ready for the US Air Force until 2015, the date that Israel had initially wanted to begin receiving the stealth jet. The jet had been scheduled to become initially operational in 2013 before the Pentagon uncovered serious problems with the contract. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that at least one senior manager would be fired and $614 million in performance bonuses would be withheld from lead contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation.“If the Americans are only getting the plane in 2015, then it is difficult to imagine that we will receive it the same time,” the officer said, adding that the Air Force was currently in talks with the Pentagon about locking down a delivery date. News of the delays in the F-35 program came as Israel and the US moved closer to finalizing details of the deal, long held up by disagreements over the integration of Israeli indigenous technology into the aircraft. The IAF plans to phase out old-model F-16s after it receives the F-35.Israel had planned to order a first squadron of 25 jets within thecoming months and to procure another 50 by the end of the decade. Dueto the delays, some IAF officers are calling for a review of theprocurement plans and to consider the possible purchase of additionalF-15Is made by Boeing Company. Israel already has a squadron of F-15Isthat are capable of carrying massive amounts of weaponry and flyinglong distances, including to Iran.“There is some thought in this direction,” a top IAF source saidrecently. “Based on the development requirements, the F-35 is supposedto be a more advanced plane primarily since it is stealth, but delaysin the production have led to new thinking within the IAF."