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Israel becomes F-35 customer

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After years of hot negotiations between the US and Israel for the “small print” of the purchase of the F-35 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the Letter of Offer and Acceptance yesterday has been signed in New York. Issues such as pricing, industrial participation in the production as well as the integration of indigenous capabilities into the weapon system delayed Israel’s final decision in favour of the F-35.

However, all these issues appear to have been settled and the Jewish state has agreed to buy a first batch of about 20 aircraft, each worth approximately $96 million, with an option to order more aircraft at a later time.

Ehud Shani, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, said during the ceremony held in New York, that the signing represents “an historic event and a new era in Israel’s military might in the face of challenges both near and far.” According to Reuters, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, stated that the F-35 would boost Israel’s ability to defend itself, “by itself, against any threat or combination of threats, from anywhere within the Middle East.” This statement clearly hints at Israel’s current major antagonist in the region, Iran. The F-35 would provide Israel with an significant asset in any strike against Iran and its controversial nuclear programme.

Israel will be the first country to receive the F-35 through the United States government’s Foreign Military Sales process, thus, the first F-35 customer outside the Joint Strike Fighter’s nine-nation co-development group. According to Israeli and the U.S. Air Force officials, the aircraft are scheduled to be built and delivered to Israel between 2015 and 2017. Reuter reports that, contrary to the written statement, Shani stated the F-35 would start arriving in 2016. The news agency states that this discrepancy was not explained. The exact number of the aircraft within the first batch, has also not been officially confirmed and, reportedly, could depend on the ultimate cost of incorporating home-made Israeli technology.

Lockheed Martin, being the prime contractor for the production of the F-35, yesterday also expressed its satisfaction with the bilateral signing. “We’re very pleased with the Government of Israel’s decision to move forward with the U.S. government’s Letter of Offer and Acceptance for the F-35,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of F-35 Program Integration. “This is another step in the long-standing relationship between Lockheed Martin and the nation of Israel. The Lightning II will strengthen Israel’s national security posture both militarily and industrially.”

The F-35 Lightning II is manufactured by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and its partners. It is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft which relies on state-of-the-art stealth technology to attain air superiority by eluding enemy radar systems. Due to its stealth capabilities and integrated weapon systems, Lockheed Martin claims that it will dominate other planes in air-to-air combat while also backing up ground forces. The F-35 is currently being developed in three configurations, including the A-version for conventional purposes, the F-35B for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) operations as well as the F-35C carrier variant.

The F-35 to be purchased by Israel corresponds to the F-35A. However, according to Israeli sources, it will be designated as F-35I and will incorporate “unique” indigenous configurations via a plug-and-play feature. As Aviation Week recently reported, the F-35s manufactured for Israel will also include several cockpit interfaces to accommodate the air force’s command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) systems. Furthermore, the news service also reports about the installation for a 600-gal. detachable fuel tank to increase the aircrafts range. This additional capability, which however undermines the aircraft’s stealthiness as long as the external fuel tank is attached, may also hint at a scenario involving Iran. According to Aviation Week, an unnamed Israeli Air Force official explained: “In some missions, you can fly non-stealthy part of the way and become stealthy as you enter the danger zone.”

Nevertheless, this are “dreams of the future” as, first of all, the aircraft have to be built, delivered, adapted to Israeli requirements, and introduced into service. With the first deliveries scheduled for 2015/16 and the time required to train combat ready pilots on this new weapon system, all this might still take too long to available in time for any such pre-emptive strike scenario.


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