A new production line for F-35 wings opened in Tel Aviv this month, but Israel has trimmed its orders of the fighter

Israel to slash second order of F-35 fighter jets

Israel is likely to order half as many F-35 fighter jets as expected in its second order of the military aircraft, according to a cabinet minister.

The US ally bought 19 F-35s for $2.75bn (£1.75bn) in 2010, with delivery scheduled between 2016 and 2018, and during a visit to the US last month Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon agreed a preliminary deal for 25 to 31 more planes subject to approval by an Israeli ministerial committee, defence sources in both countries had previously said.

The ministerial committee, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has met four times to discuss the F-35 purchase, twice deferring deadlines on a decision.

But committee member Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has told Reuters that the majority of members prefer a smaller order of between 10 and 15 of the Lockheed Martin planes, which could hinder the manufacturer’s efforts to lower the unit price because of advance orders.

Steinitz reportedly declined to go into detail about the secret discussions, but cited misgivings about whether the F-35's range, payload and manoeuvrability would suit Israel's needs at a time when the defence budget faces cuts.

"We are not the Defence Ministry's rubber stamp," Steinitz said.

An Israeli defence official said the ministerial committee would likely compromise with a staggered plan whereby 13 F-35s would be bought now and another 18 in 2017.

The 2010 F-35 deal gave Israel the option of buying three squadrons worth of the planes – 75 planes in total – but the revised numbers would mean Israel would have fewer than two squadrons for the forseeable future.

Another Israeli official linked the resistance Yaalon was meeting from cabinet colleagues to the July-August war in Gaza, which ended inconclusively and triggered calls for more investment in armoured troop carriers and munitions.

The US has also offered Israel six V-22 tilt-rotor special forces planes for $600m, but defence sources said earlier this month that the country was more likely to use some of the money for more locally-designed Namer armoured vehicles, whose parts are made by US company General Dynamics.

The $399bn F-35 is the world's most expensive weapons programme and features advanced stealth capabilities, improved manoeuvrability and high-tech sensors, but the programme has struggled with delays and budget overruns.

State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries is scheduled to make more than 800 sets of F-35 wings at a factory opened in Tel Aviv on 4 November, while another Israeli company, Elbit Systems, will produce helmets for the pilots.

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