Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Israeli procurement is the result of an agreement for the government of Israel to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II for the Israeli Air Force as the F-35I "Adir". The first nine F-35s became operational with the Israeli Air Force in December 2017.
In 2003, Israel signed a formal letter of agreement, worth almost $20 million, to join the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) effort for the F-35 as a "security cooperation participant" (SCP).
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) stated in 2006 that the F-35 is a key part of IAF's recapitalization plans, and that Israel intends to buy over 100 F-35A fighters at an estimated cost of over $5 billion to replace their F-16s over time. Israel was reinstated as a partner in the development of the F-35 on 31 July 2006, after its participation was put on hold following the Chinese arms deal crisis.
On 16 November 2006, Yaakov Katz of the Jerusalem Post reported that if no jet fighters were delivered to Israel between the last batch of F-16s in 2007 and the first F-35s in 2014 then the IAF would decline in numbers as older fighters wore out and were retired.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is developing smaller versions of the Python and Derby missiles for internal carriage while Israel Military Industries is developing a penetration bomb in the same configuration as the Mk 82 500 lb bomb. However these have been put off in order to rush the aircraft into operation as Israel's response to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
On 26 July 2010, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he would insist on the industrial participation, local electronic warfare parts and local weapons aspects during his trip to the United States. Barak submitted a request to the full cabinet for 20 F-35s for $2.75 billion to be delivered starting in 2015. This includes the costs of setting up local firms to assemble the aircraft and manufacture spare parts. The entire package is to be paid for through American military assistance.
In a bid to maintain Israel's technological gap ahead of Arab states, the F-35 deal was pushed through instead of upgrading the air force's F-15s and F-16s. This approach sticks to the principle that Israel is the first country in the Middle East to receive the newest fighter aircraft. The IAF was sufficiently committed to this principle to override protests from the leaders of Israeli defense contractors, who claimed that the deal was damaging them. The package also got by opposition from a number of members of the General Staff who criticized the high price of the deal, which does not allow for investment into weapons for the land forces and navy.
The first squadron of 20 F-35 jets from the first production series would only include a few Israeli-made systems. The United States, meanwhile, has agreed that if Israel buys more F-35 squadrons from later production series, the installation of more Israeli-made systems will be allowed. To sweeten the deal, Lockheed Martin said it would buy parts and systems for the F-35 from Israeli companies at a cost of $4 billion. The aircraft will be designated F-35I, as there will be unique Israeli features installed in them.
The total price tag confirmed by Barak indicates that each aircraft costs about $96 million, with further expenses on training, simulators, spare parts and the building of maintenance infrastructure. Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani said that apart from the jet's operational capacity, a significant factor in closing the deal included previous agreements on integrating Israeli defense contractors in producing the F-35 for other clients.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has contested the purchase. Steinitz contended that such an important decision, which has enormous defense and economic implications, should not be left to the Defense Minister, the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff and the Commander of the Air Force, but instead considered and approved by a senior group of ministers, including some with responsibility for economic issues. He got Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promise that acquisition of the planes will be considered by a forum of senior ministers.
Defense officials had argued that the purchase would be funded entirely by the military aid the United States gives Israel. But Steinitz countered that the purchase would also require a significant shekel outlay for pilot training, hangar construction and maintenance equipment, among other items.
The finance minister said consideration also had to be given to Washington's opposition to the installation of Israeli systems and missiles on the plane. This would bar the plane from being outfitted with radar built by Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta division or missiles produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Finance Ministry officials said the ban on installing Israeli systems on the aircraft would be a major blow to Israel's defense industry. In particular, the purchase of American missiles would hurt development of new Israeli missile systems. The ban also prevents countries that purchase the aircraft from buying such Israeli military systems. This contrasts with previous American fighters, on which Israeli components have been installed. The US has agreed to reciprocal purchases of equipment from Israel's defense industries totaling between $4 billion and $9 billion, which Steinitz acknowledged could remedy this situation.
Israel's three main areas of interest in customization are radar, electronic warfare and communications systems and independent maintenance capabilities.
Richard Genaille, deputy head of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, has said that installing different electronics on the F-35 would be very costly and "probably will not be in the best interest in the long run of" nations that make such changes.
Israel's guarantees of more than US$4B of aerospace work in exchange for their purchase of 20 F-35s valued at US$2.7B, without any other industrial investment in the program has caused aerospace analysts to question what benefits countries who have invested in the F-35 program will receive. Norway, Denmark and Italy have all expressed concerns that the industrial benefits from the program may be insufficient to justify participation.
On 16 September 2010, a ministerial panel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak made a final decision to purchase 20 new F-35 fighter jets, despite opposition from a number of senior defense officials over the high cost of the deal. The Israelis have said that the F-35 would neutralize the threat of S-300 missiles that Russia is under contract to deliver to Iran.
On 7 October 2010, Ehud Shani, director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense signed the deal while in New York City. Israel was to get 20 of the warplanes for nearly $3 billion and receive the jets in 2016, while retaining an option for the purchase of additional 75 aircraft.
In November 2010, Israel was reportedly offered an additional 20 F-35s in exchange for a continued freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, however State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has refused to confirm these reports, and the offer was rejected.
Moshe Arens has written that Israel does not need the F-35 to maintain its technological superiority over the Arab countries and would be better off developing its own aircraft that did not have the design compromises of the F-35.
Gur Laish, an expert on the IAF with the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, wrote a report that indicates that the F-35 will have a deterrent effect with its ability to make pre-emptive attacks on hostile countries before war is declared, such as on Iran's nuclear facilities. Yiftah S. Shapir, also of the INSS at Tel Aviv University, said that the American refusal to open the fighter to full Israeli control and modification, including making the software codes available, reduces its value, but that the American relationship with Israel is so important that it rules out other alternatives such as the Sukhoi Su-57. He also noted that the earliest deliveries in 2016 would be past the date Iran is expected to have operational nuclear weapons, one of the prime reasons for having the F-35.
In March 2011 it was announced that Israel will pay US$144.7M per aircraft for 19 F-35As, a price that includes a share of development, test and evaluation costs.
With the delivery of the F-35s reportedly delayed until 2018, the Israelis have sought additional F-15s from the United States to cover the gap.
While being interviewed by Haaretz in May 2011, Ehud Shani said that "during the last visit by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Israel a month ago, we were told that the delay may be shorter than they originally thought. In any case, I am not nervous about it. This [delay] may actually serve our interests. I favor an aircraft with as many Israeli-made systems as possible." He also said that "we will see how they try to meet our requests over this time. In the original timetable, it was argued that there was no time [to incorporate Israeli systems into the Israeli F-35s]. We will hear their conclusions and I expect a dialogue with the Americans over the new timetable and the changes." The idea that the Air Force will, in the meantime, acquire another squadron of F-15s in order to meet the gap that will be created "is not relevant," he said. The delay may mean that in the future there will be more aircraft coming to Israel in a shorter period of time, and the numbers procured may rise from 20 to 30. Israeli defense officials said that the problems with the F-35 were 'much worse than we had been told' and that a high-level delegation would be sent to the United States to determine the extent of the problems.
Israel has planned to send pilots to train in the United States in 2017 then return to Israel with the 20 jets in 2018.
According to a 7 July 2011 Aviation Week article, the United States has agreed to allow Israeli F-35s to be rewired so that Israeli electronic warfare systems can be installed on the aircraft. That would allow Israel to gradually add indigenous EW sensors and countermeasures on its fighters once it receives its first squadron. With that deal in hand, officials for both the IAF and Lockheed Martin expect the $2.7 billion contract for the procurement of 19 or 20 F-35As will be signed by early 2012.
"I believe that Israel could receive its first F-35s in late 2016," said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin's general manager of the F-35 program. A senior IAF official, who until then was concerned about delays in the program, said that the schedule agreed upon is "very satisfactory." Israel insisted that only its own EW systems would be suitable to meet the developing anti-aircraft threat in the region, such as the deployment of SA-17 and SA-22 air defense systems in Syria. But now, claimed the official, "the F-35s we will receive will be more than ready to meet those threats."
The IAF initially presented a long list of unique and costly requirements for the JSF, but it has accepted that its first F-35s will be almost identical to those of the U.S. Air Force, with only Israeli command, control, computers, communications and intelligence systems installed in them. The plans to add Israeli EW systems, air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions as well as an external fuel tank, were approved in principle but will be deferred in order to protect the budgetary framework and delivery schedule.
According to the program schedule, Israeli F-35s will be manufactured within the seventh and eighth low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot. The LRIP 5 cost is being negotiated by the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin. "Israel could still be the first international customer to receive the JSF," said Burbage. One issue that remains to be settled between the two countries is when IAF crews will begin training on the F-35s and on whose platforms. Burbage said that training could commence in 2016, but it is for the Pentagon to decide which aircraft will be made available for Israeli training.
Facing the possibility that the dramatic changes in the Middle East could turn peaceful neighbors Egypt and Jordan more hostile to Israel, the Israel Defense Forces aims to build a larger, more flexible force that will be capable of dealing with more than the traditional northern front of Syria and Lebanon. The IAF claims to be the only service with that flexibility, and it calls for accelerating the plan to procure 75 F-35s by 2030.
In the coming years, the air force will begin decommissioning dozens of its aging fighters, such as F-16s and F-15s, and with only 20 new F-35s, its fighter fleet will reach its lowest point ever. However, there is strong competition for funding. Israeli ground commanders argue that because of the potential threat that the giant and modern Egyptian army would be turned against Israel, it is necessary to establish an additional mechanized division, equipped with Merkava tanks and the new Namer armored personnel carrier. The production of the Namer was moved to General Dynamics Land Systems in the U.S. in order to enable Israel to procure them using US military aid funding, the same funding source used to acquire the F-35s.
According to the Jerusalem Post, IAF officers said on 31 July 2011 that they did not anticipate that the delivery date for the F-35 would slip beyond 2017. If it did, the IAF will need to consider other options for that time period, such as additional F-15s to fill the gap that would be created in the event that the JSF program is further delayed.
On 1 August 2011, the Jerusalem Post reported that the IAF plans to purchase a second squadron of F-35s during the upcoming IDF multi-year procurement plan that is currently under review within the General Staff. The second contract would likely be of a similar number of aircraft and, depending on when the second deal is signed, the IAF could have 40 operational aircraft by the end of the decade.
The Japanese government has discussed whether the export of F-35s containing Japanese products to Israel violates their laws against arms exports to countries involved in or likely to be involved in military conflicts.
Israeli military officials are reported to have said that the F-35 was chosen for its situational awareness capabilities.
The first two Israeli F-35As will be in LRIP 8.
In October, Israel confirmed an order with the defence secretary for 25 more aircraft to equip a second squadron of F-35s.  However, a ministerial committee member Yuval Steinitz, opposing the IDF plan, believed that order should possibly be halved due to concerns about the F-35's range, payload and maneuverability suiting Israel's needs.
In February, Israel signed the contract for the procurement of another 14 F-35As in a $2.82 billion deal, with a unit cost of about $110 million. An option for another 17 aircraft is included in the contract.
In June, the first Israeli F-35A was unveiled with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman present. The plane was to undergo further testing and actually be delivered in December. At the time it was stated that Israel had ordered 33 F-35s for delivery through 2021, with an option for 17 more. In November the Prime Minister's Office announced Israel was exercising the 17 options, after a unanimous vote of the Security Cabinet in favor, taking the total number of ordered examples to 50.
On December 12, 2016, Israel received its first shipment of the F-35I Adir. Two Adirs landed in Israel and were received in a ceremony at Nevatim Airbase. The arrival of the F-35I will make Israel the first country to have an operational F-35 squadron outside of the United States, once the squadron is properly equipped.
On 23 April 2017, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) received another three F-35I fighter jets.
On May 22, 2018, Israel's Air force commander, Major General Amikam Norkin, reported that Israel became the first country in the world to use the F-35 in combat during recent clashes with Iran in Syria.
In July 2019, Israel received two more F-35s, bringing the number of F-35s in the Israeli Air Force to 16.
The IAF's initial plans were to send pilots to the US in 2016 to begin training on the F-35 together with American pilots, and to take the first deliveries of F-35s in late 2016 or early 2017. It was announced in March 2013 that Israel would receive its first F-35s in 2015.
The Israeli F-35s will be based at Nevatim Airbase in the Negev. The decision was based on operational, environmental, infrastructure and training considerations, as well as the IDF's strategic vision to transfer some of its bases to the region.
Israel is currently building the infrastructure needed to accommodate F-35s, including hardened aircraft shelters, underground pens, and maintenance facilities. In addition, the IAF has ordered 30 M-346 trainer jets to train F-35 pilots. Construction of a manufacturing facility to produce wings under license for the F-35 was expected to be completed by mid-2014. The site is to produce a total of 811 wing pairs. Initial orders for the F-35 will be for 20 planes, with a total of 75 intended.
The first customized F-35I test platform is expected to be delivered to Israel by 2020.
Former Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel has called the F-35 "game changing," saying that Israel gathered new intelligence during a single flight by the F-35 early 2017 that other reconnaissance and intelligence gathering systems would take weeks to gather.
Changes from standard F-35A
A senior Israeli air force official stated, "the aircraft will be designated F-35I, as there will be unique Israeli features installed in them." The United States initially refused to allow the integration of Israel's own electronic warfare systems into the aircraft's built-in electronic suite. However, Israel planned the introduction of a plug-and-play feature added to the main computer to allow for the use of Israeli electronics in an add-on fashion, and to fit its own external jamming pod. The IAF dispatched two officers to the US where they discussed issues involving the integration of Israeli technology into the fighter with Pentagon and Lockheed Martin officials. In July 2011, it was reported that the U.S. had agreed to allow Israel to install its own electronic warfare systems and missiles in its F-35s in the future. In 2012 Lockheed was awarded a contract to make changes to the first Israeli F-35s to allow the installation of Israeli electronic warfare equipment produced by Elbit Systems. This equipment will use "specific apertures ... in the lower fuselage and leading edge". Israel also plans to install its own indigenously-produced guided bombs and air-to-air missiles in the F-35's internal weapon bays. Benni Cohen compared the Israel Aerospace Industries Command and control system to an iPhone App that would run on top of the central avionics.
Israel Aerospace Industries will manufacture the outer wings of Israel's F-35s. IAI may also play a role in the development of a proposed two-seat F-35. An IAI executive stated, "There is a known demand for two seats not only from Israel but from other air forces. Advanced aircraft are usually two seats rather than single seats." The Israeli F-35s helmet-mounted displays will also be manufactured in Israel. This is part of the Offset agreement provided to Israel, in spite of the purchase being entirely funded by American aid.
An IAF official stated that while the stealth of the F-35 in its current form will be overcome in 5–10 years, the aircraft will be in service for 30–40 years, and that is the reason that Israel insisted on the ability to make its own changes to the aircraft's electronic warfare systems.
The first 19 aircraft will be delivered as standard F-35As while the remaining 31 will be fully equipped F-35I.
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