Israel mulls buying Italian training helicopters

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The air force wants to replace its out-of-date helicopters with AgustaWestland training helicopters.

The Ministry of Defense is considering the procurement of new training helicopters made by Italian company AgustaWestland for the Israel air force. The air force and Ministry of Defense are seeking to replace the outmoded Bell Sayfan 206 helicopters currently used for helicopter cadets in flight training.

The air force received its first Sayfan helicopters in the early 1970s, and more advanced Bell 206 models were delivered during the 1980s. Since they were obtained by the air force, they have been used mainly for missions of patrolling, observation, light transport, rescue, evacuation of casualties, etc. In recent years, these helicopters have undergone a series of adaptations for use in training cadet pilots in the air force flight school at the Hatzerim base.

The Ministry of Defense has not yet decided which AgustaWestland model will meet the training needs of future air force helicopter pilots. In recent months, the Ministry of Defense Procurement and Production Directorate has been conducting a preliminary procedure of obtaining information about possible aircraft for this mission, in cooperation with professional air force personnel, including the establishment of budgetary frameworks for financing a future deal. "It is still preliminary," Ministry of Defense deputy director general and Production and Procurement Directorate head Brigadier-General (res.) Shmuel Zucker confirmed to "Globes." "We are adding information and considering it from all angles. Later, the air force will decide what it wants and what is right for it, according to its professional standards. In any case, for years the air force has been discussing its need and wish to update its training helicopters."

While the air force wants to renew its fleet of training helicopters in order to save on the high maintenance costs for its outmoded helicopters, the Italians are also very interested in a deal, while consolidating and strengthening the defense ties between the two countries.

The Ministry of Defense is talking about the possible procurement of 10-15 new helicopters. No budget framework for such an agreement exists yet, but the parties involved in the matter believe that one will be found.

One possibility involves buying Italian helicopters using US aid money. How can US money, most of which Israel uses for defense procurement from US companies, be diverted to an Italian company? In the opinion of one source involved in the matter, it will be possible to pay this money to AgustaWestland, which has a manufacturing plant in the US.

Another way of paying for future procurement of the training helicopters is based on a model that defense sources believe has worked well for the past four years: an exchange deal, similar to the one made by the Ministry of Defense for the procurement of 30 M-346 training planes for air force pilots in combat training from Italian company Alenia Aermacchi. The structure of the deal differs from that of previous procurement Ministry of Finance deals: it is based on the founding of a joint Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1)-Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) corporation named TOR, which bought the aircraft with a 20-year loan granted to the Ministry of Defense by Israeli and Italian banks.

TOR maintains the aircraft and also operates their simulators, and in effect sells flight hours to the air force. The entire deal was estimated at $1.5 billion. On the other hand, the Italians have promised reciprocal procurement in Israel on a large scale: two IAI intelligence aircraft and a satellite for intelligence collection.

Procuring the M-346 planes enabled the air force to retire the out-of-date Skyhawk used to train and qualify pilot course cadets. Two years ago, when the first Italian training aircraft landed in Israel, the air force gave them the nickname Lavie in honor of the warplane developed by IAI in the 1980s, which was eventually shelved under heavy US pressure.

Italian "Lavies" are already flying in Israel's skies, on a large scale. According to the Ministry of Defense, since the use of these planes to train pilot course cadets began, they have been used on no fewer than 10,000 missions.

Ceremony in Italy

The 30th Lavie, the last promised to the air force by Alenia Aermacchi, will land in Israel in two weeks. Yesterday, a ceremony took place in honor of the last delivery, attended by Zucker, who told "Globes," "Despite the major doubts expressed in the initial stages of the deal, the deal was a success. The most important thing is that the customer, the air force, is satisfied, and it is very satisfied. The Italian plane is serving as a modern advanced platform training air force pilots, some of whom will later fly the F-35 stealth aircraft." The air force will get its first delivery of stealth aircraft, to be called "Adir," at the end of the year.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 8, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

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