In Bid for Air Superiority, Israel May Wait for Better Jets

Israel Air Force is due to receive F-35 stealth fighters from manufacturer Lockheed Martin beginning in late 2015.

Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer

Israel might accept deliveries of the new F-35 fighter jet later than planned to make sure the planes have the capabilities the air force requires.

The Israel Air Force is due to receive the planes from manufacturer Lockheed Martin beginning in late 2015. But the current development speed means that if Israel takes the planes on schedule, they will be from the first batch of production, lacking the advanced electronics, communications and radar functions that Israel demands.

The F-35 Joint Strike FighterCredit: AP

Third-batch jets that feature these capabilities will not be delivered before late 2016. Teams from the IAF and the Defense Ministry have left for the United States in the past two weeks to take part in discussions between Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force. The sides will plan production and the various delivery dates.

The Israel Air Force now believes that timing must be considered against capabilities. The IAF wants to acquire the jets as soon as possible to increase its technological lead over other countries in the region. This would bolster the air force's deterrent capabilities.

However, the IAF also fears that even at the price of $100 million per unit, it may eventually end up with a jet lacking the advanced capabilities it needs. A meeting headed by the director-general of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, is scheduled to take place in two months to sum up the work of the teams that visited the United States and to decide whether the purchasing agreement of 25 jets already signed needs to be changed.

Lockheed Martin, for its part, wants to deliver the planes as soon as possible to boost its marketing efforts with an Israeli endorsement.

The Defense Ministry said yesterday that it had signed letter of agreement to receive stealth jets in late 2015. "We do no intend to comment on financially-motivated speculation," the ministry said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin said it remains convinced it will provide Israel with fully battle-ready F-35 jets on the schedule discussed by the U.S. and Israel governments. "All jets received by Israel will have full battle capabilities," the company said.