US corporation Lockheed Martin is trying to sell more F-35 Stealth fighters to the Israel air force, in addition to the 50 planes that Israel has already ordered, sources inform "Globes." Lockheed Martin's offer was recently presented to senior staff in the Ministry of Defense and the air force. Israel is preparing to decide whether to procure another squadron of F-35s or a squadron of F-15 IAs manufactured by Boeing, Lockheed Martin's competitor. Each squadron has 25 planes.
20 F-35s have been supplied to the Israeli air force so far, and construction of the second squadron of these planes will begin this January. According to Lockheed Martin's supply plan, all 50 planes ordered by Israel in recent years will be delivered by 2024, at a rate of six a year. Lockheed Martin is now pushing the Israeli air force to procure another 50 F-35s, which will bring Israel's total procurement of F-35s to 100.
Intensive lobbying for the deal
Israeli defense sources told "Globes" that Lockheed Martin's efforts to promote a large sale of F-35s to Israel were being accompanied by intensive lobbying. Lockheed Martin is promising substantial reciprocal procurement in Israel in exchange for buying 50 more F-35s. As part of these efforts, Lockheed Martin VP customer requirements Gen. (ret.) Gary North visited Israel last week.
Since 2010, when Israel completed its first of three F-35 procurement rounds, Lockheed Martin's reciprocal procurement in Israel has totaled $1.75 billion, a number that is slated to increase in the coming years. This reciprocal procurement consists mainly of helmets made by Elbit Systems and US company Rockwell Collins for F-35 pilots and wings for F-35s made by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Defense sources said that according to the messages delivered by Lockheed Martin, if Israel procures two more F-35 squadrons, its reciprocal procurement in Israel would grow significantly, although Lockheed Martin had problems estimated its volume.
On his visit to Israel, North also attended the Globes Defense Industries Conference. He commented on the range of defense threats that were likely to challenge Israel in the coming years, including cruise missiles. Among other things, North said that F-35s were capable of detecting and intercepting cruise missiles at low heights and at long ranges through the advanced radar installed on them.
North's remarks on this subject followed the recent tension with Iran and concern in Israel about an Iranian attack on Israel with cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), similar to the Iranian attack in September against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.
A deal for future fighters for the Israeli air force will be funded with US defense aid, which will amount to $38 billion in the coming decade.
Lockheed Martin recently reported lowering its price for the basic F-35 model to $79.9 million. As part of a large procurement deal for these planes, as in the case of the Israeli air force, the price will fall still lower.
Hesitation: Lockheed Martin or Boeing
Israel has been hesitating for a long time between procuring a third squadron of F-35s and Boeing's advanced F-15s. In contrast to the F-35, Boeing's F-15 is capable of bearing a very broad range of types and quantities of bombs and missiles, but these planes do not have stealth capacity.
F-35s can also carry large quantities of armaments, but at the expense of their stealth configuration.
Defense sources told "Globes" that the Israeli air force wants to procure one squadron of warplanes every five years, due to the aging of the planes that it uses and the need to preserve the IDF's technological supremacy in the Middle East. The sources added that the form of Lockheed Martin's offer of two F-35 squadrons to Israel, with supply taking place over a decade, so that if the offer is accepted, Israel's air force will have 100 F-35s by 2030.
The first F-35s, which were supplied to Israel in December 2016, were given the name "Adir" by the air force. 18 months after their arrival, Israel air force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said that Israel was the first country in the world to make an operational attack using these planes.
A defense source familiar with the offers by Lockheed Martin and Boeing said, "Both planes are good, and both are essential to the air force's difficult task. In the main challenge in building the force, the air force should therefore strive towards a mix composed of F-35s and F-15s, which are strategic bombers that Israel needs. The stealth fighters will not be capable of performing the missions for which the F-15 is designed."
In recent days, sources at Boeing said that while Israel's ability to integrate its weapons systems in the stealth fighters was limited, the configuration of the F-15s offered to Israel will enable it to adapt a wide range of armaments to them. Some of these are future armaments that the Israeli defense industries are likely to develop.
IDF renewing its helicopters
In addition to staff work taking place in the air force and the Ministry of Defense in preparation for the decision about procurement of future warplanes, offers from Lockheed Martin and Boeing of future helicopters and refueling planes for the air force are also being considered. The air force's fleet of transportation helicopters, based on Yasur helicopters, is outmoded, given the fact that many of these helicopters have been in use since the 1970s.
Due to the air force's severe shortage of spare parts for these helicopters, a large-scale mission by the Ministry of Defense and a defense procurement delegation in the US was completed late last week. Five US Navy surplus CH-53 helicopters were brought to Israel to serve as source of spare parts for Israeli Yasur helicopters.
Lockheed Martin said in response, "Lockheed Martin is proud of its many years of cooperation with Israel, and of its commitment to supply F-35s that will ensure Israel's national security in the coming decades."
An IDF spokesperson said, "The IDF is currently formulating procurement plans in the framework of the aid agreement with the US administration. Beyond the deals that have already been signed in the framework of the agreement, all of the other plans are in the decisions stage, and will be completed in the coming months as part of the Tarash Tenufa" plan."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 22, 2019
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