Defense Ministry interested to buy stealth jets; IAF in talks with Boeing to buy more Apache helicopters.
By YAAKOV KATZ
The Israel Air Force will review the possibility of purchasing the advanced American F-22 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet if a congressional ban is lifted, enabling it to be sold abroad, defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Referring to recent reports in the US that Congress had asked the Air Force to submit a report on the possibility of exporting the jet to Japan, Israel and other allies, a senior defense official said if this happened, "we will have to consider the option."
"This is an advanced fighter jet of superior capabilities," the Defense Ministry official said. "It will depend, though, on the price, availability and time frame."
Congress's interest in continuing funding for the F-22 runs counter to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision to stop production of the aircrafts.
Israel is already in advanced talks with the Pentagon regarding the possible sale of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) - also known as the F-35 - to Israel. Both planes are manufactured by Lockheed Martin, but Israeli defense officials said the F-22 was capable of flying at higher altitudes and could carry more weapons internally.
"A lot will depend on the outcome of the ongoing talks regarding the JSF," the defense official said. "If the export ban on the F-22 is lifted, things may change."
The IAF is also in negotiations with Boeing to purchase at least six additional Apache Longbow attack helicopters in an effort to bolster the air support the IAF is able to provide ground forces.
The negotiations are ongoing and sources close to the talks said they would likely be completed by the end of the year. The IAF has yet to decide exactly how many aircraft it would purchase and was waiting to receive a final price offer from Boeing.
The IAF is also considering upgrading several of its old "A" model Apache helicopters to the "D" model Longbow version with the above-rotor advanced radar system, which enables the helicopter to share targeting data with other Longbows. According to foreign reports, Israel has 37 "A" model Apaches and 11 Longbows.
Three Apache helicopters - including one Longbow version - were lost during the Second Lebanon War. In one case, two Apaches collided in midair. In the other, the Longbow crashed due to a malfunction in the rotor.
During Operation Cast Lead, due to the limited scope of the operation, the IAF was able to allocate a squadron of attack helicopters that worked in conjunction with infantry brigades operating on the ground. This organic system, a senior IAF officer said, would not be workable in a larger conflict due to the IAF's limited number of aircraft.
"We do not have enough [aircraft] and need more," the officer said. "We operate with what we have and there are gaps; there is always room to improve."
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