The United States is refusing to supply a test aircraft as part of its sale of the F-35, the next generation of Israel Air Force fighter jets, although such an aircraft has been included in deals between the two countries for the past 40 years.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his director general, Ehud Shani, went to Washington last week to discuss the matter.
The IAF chose the F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, as its next fighter jet although, as Haaretz reported last year, the Defense Ministry is planning on limiting the purchase to about 20 stealth multirole fighters, rather than the 75 originally planned.
The limited order stems from the high cost of the plane - about $150 million - and delays in development in the U.S., which will result in delays in the plane going into service in Israel.
In addition, the Americans' ongoing opposition to including special Israeli instrumentation in planes the IAF is purchasing, on the claim that changes cannot be made in the plane's systems, continues to be a major obstacle to the deal's completion. Although progress has been made on some of the issues over the past few months, the defense establishment reportedly does not expect the deal to be closed in the coming weeks.
American refusal to include Israeli systems in the aircraft, particularly communications and electronic warfare systems, involves not only the manufacture of the plane, but also American opposition to including in the deal a plane with special instrumentation to be used in experimental aviation. In all the deals for fighter planes Israel has made with the U.S., at least one experimental aircraft was included, from the Phantom in 1969 to the F-16I, whose development was completed only 18 months ago. These aircraft are flown from the experimental aircraft center at the IAF's Tel Nof base, with test pilots and engineers to study any new Israeli system or weapon the IAF wants to install on the American planes it has purchased.
The planes have cameras and instruments to gauge in-flight behavior with the new instrumentation or new missiles on board, and transmit the data in real time to the test flight center on the ground. The experimental flight center makes is possible for the IAF to upgrade its aircraft and suit them to special missions.
The American refusal to supply Israel with a test aircraft as part of the F-35 deal would mean that upgrades will not be implemented during the plane's service in the IAF.
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