IDF chief presents budget and procurement plan

Ground forces to receive most significant boost; F-35s to be purchased at cost of $50-60 million each.

f-35 jet courtesy (photo credit: Courtesy)
f-35 jet courtesy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
New stealth fighter jets, advanced missile ships and the production of hundreds of new armored personnel carriers were at the center of the IDF budget and procurement plan for the next five years presented by IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday. Ashkenazi's plan was presented to the General Staff, which convened two weeks ago for a two-day workshop during which each branch presented its recommendations. Ashkenazi decided to purchase a squadron of Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) also known as the F-35 - a fifth-generation stealth aircraft that Israel will begin receiving in 2014. The price of each F-35 is expected to reach $50 million-$60m. In addition, Ashkenazi decided to invest funds in upgrading the IAF's current fleet as well as strengthening Israel's investment in unmanned aerial vehicles. The IAF will also purchase a new fleet of transport aircraft in the coming year. Under consideration are Lockheed Martin's C-130 J-model Hercules as well as additional transport aircraft. The plan took into consideration Israel's changing strategic environment, including the looming Iranian nuclear threat, the Palestinian conflict, the possibility of war with Hizbullah and Syria as well as the eventual pullout of American forces from Iraq and the possibility that country will establish an army that will be hostile to Israel. "This plan takes all of the current threats Israel faces into consideration," a high-ranking IDF officer said Monday. "This plan will hopefully prepare the IDF for dealing with those future challenges." A number of classified projects, including the development of new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) which will enhance Israel's long-arm capacities, will also receive funding. The defense budget for the coming year is NIS 50.5 billion, including the recent increase in US military aid from $2.4b. to $3b. annually. As expected, the IDF Ground Forces Command will receive the most significant boost in funding in the coming five years. Ashkenazi decided to set aside billions of shekels to continue the intensive training regimen the IDF embarked upon following the failures of the Second Lebanon War last summer. In 2007, the budget for training was double that of 2006 and in 2008 it will grow by an additional NIS 200m. Ashkenazi also decided to continue production of the Merkava Mark-4 tank alongside improving the IDF's current array of tanks, with an emphasis on an installation of active protection systems. Several months ago the IDF signed a contract with the Rafael Armaments Development Authority for the purchase of the Trophy Active Protection System, which is capable of intercepting anti-tank missiles. In addition, Ashkenazi decided to begin mass production of the Namer armored personnel carrier, which is based on the same platform as the Merkava Mark-4 tank. Compared to its current APC, called Achzarit, the Namer offers a significant advantage in the quality of its armor, providing incomparable protection for its crew. The IDF is considering purchasing several hundred Stryker armored vehicles manufactured by General Dynamics in the US. Ashkenazi also decided to establish a new reserve division as well as a new infantry brigade. The IDF has yet to decide if the reserve division will consist of armored or infantry units. The new plan also calls for the production and procurement of UAVs for some 30 infantry and armored battalions. The navy will receive two new missile ships to enhance its ability to protect Israel's coast, as well as its long-range capabilities. Under consideration are the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) developed by Lockheed Martin, at a cost of $250m. as well as another two alternatives. The navy plans to install a Barak anti-missile defense system on the ship to intercept incoming missiles. The ship was built as a "Brown Water" ship, meant to operate in shallow waters and along the coast to combat a combined threat from land and sea. According to defense sources, the Littoral Combat Ship will enhance Israel's long-range capabilities. The ship is capable of carrying special forces, infantry units and midsized vehicles, as well as two helicopters. Ashkenazi also decided to speed up the development of anti-Kassam missile defense systems and allocated a significant amount of money for the Iron Dome system currently under development by Rafael, as well as the Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense system. "The plan will significantly strengthen the IDF and give it the ability to deal with the security challenges the country faces in the coming years," Ashkenazi said. The plan will be presented to the political echelons and is expected to be implemented in January 2008.