Israel celebrates finalized deal for a further 17 F-35 strike fighters
Jack GUEZ (AFP)
Israel has wrapped up its purchase of seventeen additional F-35 fighter jets from US industrial giant Lockheed Martin, in a deal that will ultimately equip the air force with fifty of the state-of-the-art warplanes.
The purchase deal concludes the acquisition process from the troubled US Joint Strike Fighter program, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Sunday.
"The completion of the deal to purchase 17 additional F-35s is a significant and strategic addition to the air force and ... will help the IDF and the air force deal with the many security challenges facing the State of Israel," said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
He added that the aircraft, which have been criticized by President Donald Trump for their $400 billion price tag, "are central to protecting the security of Israeli citizens along the borders and even outside them. The signing of the transaction is further evidence of the depth of the relationship and security relations between our great friend the United States and the State of Israel."
The statement also emphasized that they were the first of the 50 jets that Israel has purchased to come in at under $100m a pop, although the ministry did not specify the exact cost of each plane.
The security cabinet approved the transaction in-principle November 2016, and began thrashing out a deal.
Israel will be the only country in the Middle East to have the F-35, which has a range of 1,300 miles and can carry up to 8,200 kg of weapons.
Israeli engineers tweaked the jet, calling it the "Adir". It had its first test flight at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas on July 26 2016.
Proponents tout its radar-dodging stealth technology, supersonic speeds, close air-support capabilities, airborne agility and a massive array of sensors giving pilots unparalleled access to information.
But the program has faced numerous setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that led commanders to ground planes until the problem could be resolved.
Other issues have led to delays and cost overruns, including software bugs, technical glitches and even a faulty eject system that risked killing pilots who weighed less than 136 pounds (62 kilos).
(Staff with agencies)
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