The Israeli Defense Ministry has completed the acquisition process of an additional 17 F-35 stealth jets, officially giving the Israel Air Force (IAF) two squadrons of the world’s most advanced fighter planes.
The purchase of the 17 additional fighter jets, whose delivery will be completed by December 2024, was approved by the cabinet in November and the contract was signed by Major General (res.) Udi Adam, Director General of the Defense Ministry.
Israel, which has already received five F-35 “Adir” jets now being tested by the IAF, will receive an additional two next week and another two jets by November, which will bring the total of F-35s in the IAF to nine, with the remainder to come. The Jewish state is expected to announce initial operation capability of the first squadron by December 7.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that completing the acquisition was further evidence of the depth of the relationship and strength of security relations between Israel and the United States.
The 17 additional jets will be “a significant and strategic” addition to the Israel Air Force, Liberman said, adding that “the two squadrons, which will help the IDF and the IAF deal with the many security challenges facing the State of Israel, are central to protecting the security of Israeli citizens along her borders as well as far away from them.”
Dubi Lavi, the Head of the Defense Ministry’s delegation to the US, said that this was the third major acquisition of the F-35 “Adir” in the past decade and that in this transaction Lockheed Martin was able to reduce the average price of each plane to less than $100 million.
“This is a significant reduction compared to the planes already purchased by the State of Israel so far,” Lavi said.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the planes are being purchased as part of the military aid agreement between the US and Israel. In the first deal Israel purchased 19 F-35s at a cost of $125 million., and a second deal of 14 jets saw Jerusalem pay $112 million per plane. The cost of the plane is expected to drop to around $80 million in the coming years.
The jet was outfitted according to Israel’s own specifications and will be embedded with Israeli-made electronic warfare pods as well as Israeli weaponry, all set to be installed once the plane is in Israel.
The F-35s have components in them built by Israeli companies, including Israel Aerospace Industries who produced the outer wings, Elbit System-Cyclone that built the center fuselage composite components and Elbit Systems Ltd., which manufactured the helmets worn by the pilots.
Most of Israel’s aircraft could be up to 30 years old, and Israel is also said to be still considering acquiring F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/ vertical landing jets. According to Lockheed Martin, the B variant “is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near frontline combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases.”
This could be crucial in times of war when air force bases, and particularly runways, will likely be hit by enemy missiles and rockets.