Sunday, October 5, 2008

ISRAEL: U.S.-Israel jet deal sought: Pentagon backs sale of next-generation F-35s fighters to ally

The Defense Department said this week that it wants to sell as many as 75 fighter jets to Israel in a $15.2 billion deal for the aircraft expected to be the mainstay of air power in the United States and several other nations for decades.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said it notified Congress on Friday that Israel has asked to buy 25 of the F-35s made by Lockheed Martin Corp., with an option to buy 50 more later.

The sale would be the first to a country outside the United States and eight partner nations that are collaborating on the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. The jet is still under development and not in service, but the United States plans to eventually acquire 2,458 planes for the Army, Marines and Air Force at a cost of $300 billion.

The F-35 was designed as a replacement for a range of warplanes, including the F-16, which is a large component of many air forces worldwide. Countries such as Spain, Singapore and Japan also have expressed interest in the F-35.

Israel has said it plans to buy a fleet of F-35s as it upgrades its military technology. The first batch of 25 would be the variant of F-35 designed for conventional takeoff from military airfields, but the later 50 could include a version that can land vertically.

While the jet is expected to be widely used, the program has suffered some setbacks, including delays and growing cost that have been criticized by government auditors. When maintenance and service costs for the life of the jet are added in, the cost of the F-35 to the United States could reach $1 trillion over the next several decades.