By Yaakov Katz and jpost.com staff
Israel to receive first 20 fighters in 2015, cost estimated at $2.75b
Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave his approval Sunday for the purchase of the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) by the Israeli Air Force from the US.
“The F-35 is a fighter jet of the future that will enable Israel to continue its air superiority and mainatain its qualitative edge in the region,” said Barak. “The plane will provide the air force with better long-range and short-range capabilities in a manner that will help ensure national security.”
While the Pentagon has approved an Israeli request to purchase 75 aircraft, Israel plans – at the initial stage – to only buy around 20 JSFs. The deal is estimated to cost $2.75 billion. Barak will take the deal to the cabinet for final approval.
Two main obstacles have impeded Israeli procurement plans until now – the price of the aircraft, likely to reach just over $140 million, as well as US opposition to the integration of Israeli-designed technical systems into the plane.
Due to the high price of the aircraft, Israel will buy a first batch configured like the standard US version. The initial planes will begin arriving in Israel towards the end of 2015.
The second batch of the aircraft, likely to arrive in the second half of the decade, will be designed according to Israeli specifications and include Israeli-made systems.
One of the Israeli Air Force’s main motivations for becoming the first foreign customer to receive the aircraft is concern that other countries in the region – particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia – will be allowed to purchase the aircraft.
Israel, for example, was the first country outside of the US to purchase F-15s but Saudi Arabia now operates a significant number of F-15s and is in talks with the Pentagon regarding the potential sale of an additional 84.
While the Saudi interest in the plane is understood as having more to do with the Kingdom’s concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Israel is also concerned with increasing Saudi air power and raised the issue with the US in recent meetings in Tel Aviv and Washington DC.