Israel to Halve Second Order of U.S.-made F-35 Fighter Jets, Ya'alon Says

Defense minister reportedly agreed to a preliminary deal for 25 to 31 more planes subject to approval by an Israeli ministerial committee.

Dan Williams
This undated photo provided by Northrop Grumman Corp., shows a pre-production model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
This undated photo provided by Northrop Grumman Corp., shows a pre-production model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.Credit: AP
Dan Williams

REUTERS - Israel will place a second order for between 10 and 15 U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets, around half the number previously mentioned by defense sources in both countries, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Monday.

A reduced Israeli purchase may dent international confidence in the Lockheed Martin Corp plane and manufacturer efforts to lower the unit price because of advance orders.

Israel bought 19 F-35s for $2.75 billion in 2010, with delivery scheduled between 2016 and 2018. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, visiting the United States last month, agreed to a preliminary deal for 25 to 31 more planes subject to approval by an Israeli ministerial committee, sources said.

One committee member, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, told Reuters there was majority opposition to the scale of Ya'alon's order and preference for a smaller purchase of 10 to 15 planes. A final decision is expected in the coming days.

While declining to go into detail about the closed-door discussions, Steinitz cited misgivings about whether the F-35's range, payload and maneuverability would suit Israel's needs. The Israelis are also husbanding a defense budget which, though buoyed by some $3 billion in annual U.S. grants, faces cuts.

"We are not the Defense Ministry's rubber stamp," Steinitz said.

Ya'alon's spokesman had no immediate comment.

The ministerial committee, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has met four times to discuss the F-35 purchase, twice deferring deadlines on a decision.

The delay could mean Israel incurring penalties on Citibank loan guarantees it had arranged to pay for the F-35s. Terms for the loans were due to expire on Nov. 15, defense sources said.

The 2010 F-35 deal gave Israel the option of buying 75 planes in total - three squadrons. Steinitz' numbers mean Israel will have fewer than two squadrons in the foreseeable future, an operational challenge for its air force, which has been tasked with a multitude of regional missions including threatened strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Another Israeli official linked the resistance Ya'alon was meeting from cabinet colleagues to the July-August war in Gaza, which ended inconclusively and triggered calls for more investment in armored troop carriers and munitions.

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