The Israeli cabinet has rejected a proposal to purchase additional F-35s: (Paid subscription required)
An Israeli cabinet panel has rejected a decision by the defense minister to procure an additional 31 Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and has limited the procurement of Israel’s second batch of JSFs to only 13.
It is unprecedented for the ministerial committee on defense procurement to reverse an air force requirement already approved by the defense minister, the former government and the National Security Council. The Israeli air force (IAF), which currently has 19 F-35s on order under a $2.74 billion contract, will have to be satisfied with a total of 32 aircraft in the coming years, and will not be able to complete two full squadrons as planned.
Israel’s decision to cut back on the near-term buy is notable; surrounded by existential threats, the country has been one of the most aggressive buyers of the single-engine, stealthy jet. It was the first F-35 nonpartner nation to sign up for a foreign military sale; Japan and South Korea quickly followed.
In Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, who had already concluded the terms of a $4.4 billion contract for an additional 31 F-35s with the Pentagon, is now asking for the same terms for a smaller number of aircraft. The U.S. has agreed to grant Israel $2.4 billion in credit for the deal, as well as to conduct offset procurement totaling $5.3 billion, under the expectation that Israel will acquire a total of 50 F-35s. The JSF procurement is financed through the $3.1 billion annual military aid that the U.S. provides to Israel.
It is unclear, however, if the U.S. will agree to provide Israel with the same terms for the smaller deal. “Minister Ya’alon will try to convince the Pentagon that this is a minor delay and that eventually Israel will procure the 50 aircraft,” a senior defense source told Aviation Week.
“For maintaining stealthiness, this aircraft has compromised maneuverability, shorter operational range and significantly less payload capability,” a senior Israeli official told Aviation Week. “We shouldn’t be buying so many of them when it is unclear whether the stealth is effective, or there is a countermeasure that would negate it. There are vast gaps in performance between the F-35 and fourth-generation fighters.”
This is a big deal.
Israel’s participation in the F-35 program provides much of the credibility for foreign sales: They were the first non-JSF partner nation to ink orders for the aircraft, and they have provided a lot of credibility to the program.