Israeli defense companies have scored one of the biggest deals in the industry's history: They will be making about $4 billion worth of parts for the next generation of American fighter jets, industry sources told TheMarker.
While no official announcement has been made, Israeli defense officials have been talking with the U.S. defense companies involved in the development and production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The main company involved is Lockheed Martin, home of the F-series of fighter jets, which began working on the F-35 in 2003.
The discussions about Israel's involvement were led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The Israeli companies that might be involved in supplying parts include Israel Aerospace Industries, which made the wings for a previous generation of Lockheed jet; Elbit Systems, which makes smart helmets for fighter pilots; Rafael Advanced Defense Systems; and Israel Military Industries.
Israel would not only like to be involved in the development and manufacture of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; it would like to buy the jet too. Twenty of them, actually, at a total cost of about $2.75 billion.
The F-35 will be equipped with the capability for stealth concealment from enemy radar, making it easier to launch a surprise attack over hostile territory. That is one of the main reasons the Israel Air Force decided to buy the F-35 despite criticism over its price, which could reach about $200 million each - more than double the cost of the latest generation of fighter jet being developed by Boeing.
As a compromise, the IAF has ordered 20 F-35s instead of the 75 it had originally intended to procure. The jets will be paid for using U.S. defense aid, which amounts to about $3 billion a year.
The F-35 will be available in three forms: one that takes off and lands as planes normally do, and one with vertical takeoff and landing capacity, like a helicopter. The third will be adapted for use on aircraft carriers.
Israel wants the planes it buys to be equipped with Israeli-made control and monitoring systems, and electronic warfare systems.
Israel was invited to participate in developing the F-35, a process that began in 2003, but declined because of the cost. Development partners include Turkey, Britain, Australia and Canada.
Some believe that the F-35 will be the last manned jet fighter to be developed, ever. The next generation of jet fighters is expected to be completely robotic. Again, Israel could play a major role, given its dominant position in the development of unmanned drones.