Israel orders first squadron of stealth F-35s

Israel moved a step closer to receiving its first stealth fighter jets this week after the Israel Air Force submitted an official Letter of Request (LOR) to the Pentagon to purchase its first squadron of 25 F-35 stealth fighter jets. Also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the F-35 will be one of the most-advanced fighter jets in the world and will enable Israel to phase out some of its older F-15 and F-16 models. The JSF is manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Defense officials said that while the LOR was submitted this week, negotiations regarding the final price of the plane - estimated at around $100 million - as well as the integration of Israeli systems would continue. The LOR will be followed by the signing of a contract in the beginning of 2010. The first aircraft are scheduled to arrive in Israel in 2014. The first stage of the deal will be the purchase of 25 aircraft, which will compromise the first Israeli F-35 squadron. In a later stage, the IAF plans to purchase an additional 50 aircraft, some of them with vertical take-off and landing capabilities. According to senior IDF officers, the Defense Ministry and the Pentagon have reached understandings on most of the major issues that have been at the core of disagreement between the sides. Israeli demands have focused on three issues - the integration of Israeli-made electronic warfare systems into the plane, the integration of Israeli communication systems and the ability to independently maintain the plane in the event of a technical or structural problem.