U.S. may allow Israeli upgrades to F-35 fighter jet
An order from Israel has been delayed for months because of discussions on the issue of Israeli systems.
The United States is expected to ease its opposition to incorporating Israeli systems in the F-35 if Israel expedites its order for the stealth strike fighter. Sources in the defense establishment confirmed Tuesday a Reuters report that the U.S. has offered a version of the F-35 that would include command and control systems developed in Israel, as well as the ability to carry advanced missiles that are made in Israel.
Reuters says that the Pentagon is still opposed to the introduction of an Israeli electronic warfare suite for the version of the fighter that would be procured by the IAF, and this remains a key Israeli condition.
An order from Israel has been delayed for months because of discussions on the issue of Israeli systems, and the aircraft's high cost.
The IAF would like to place an order for the first 25 F-35s, out of an overall order of 75.
The estimated cost of the deal stands at $14.5 billion. To date, the Pentagon and the maker of the advanced fighter, Lockheed Martin, had refused Israel Air Force requests for substantial changes to the aircraft, so that it would be capable of meeting the IAF's specialized requirements.
The Americans argued that the avionics suite of the F-35 cannot be changed, and the Israeli requests were made at a late stage in the development.
The Americans' willingness to soften their stance is the result of a series of meetings held by Lockheed officials and Israeli defense establishment officials three weeks ago, and also difficulties with the project, particularly concerns that orders by countries participating in the development project will be low.
An extensive series of discussions is being carried out at the Pentagon to assess the delays in the test phase of the aircraft, as well as the overall cost of the project, which is estimated to exceed the original budget by some $15 billion.
A decision by Israel to acquire the F-35 is perceived to be a public relations victory for the maker of the fighter, which hopes that an announcement of such a decision would boost sales to other countries.