The security cabinet decided unanimously on Sunday to purchase 17 additional F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States. The Prime Minister's Bureau said the new purchase will bring the number of F-35s in the Israel Air Force to 50.
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The state-of-the-art F-35, already nicknamed the Adir (Hebrew for mighty or glorious) in Israel, is considered the world's most advanced fighter aircraft. The additional purchase will enable Israel's Air Force to outfit two full squadrons of the plane.
In 2014, the security cabinet decided to buy an initial 14 jets, instead of a planned 31, for budgetary reasons. One of the main opponents of the plan to buy a larger number of F-35s was then-Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who said at the time that the cabinet did not need to be a rubber stamp for the defense establishment. But it was clear to the military even then that this would simply mean splitting the purchase of the planes up and that the remainder of the F-35s would be bought later, which is what happened in the end.
The planes, produced by Lockheed Martin, are being purchased as part of the military aid agreement between the United States and Israel. The price of each individual plane is estimated at about $110 million.
The first F-35 squadron is now being established and Israel's first pair of F-35s are scheduled to land in Israel at the Nevatim air force base near Be'er Sheva in two weeks. They will be flown from the United States to Israel by American pilots, with mid-air refueling over the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. The next day two of the six Israeli pilots who trained in the United States to fly the Adir will take over.