Israel will stagger the purchase of a second batch of F-35 fighter jets over the next three years rather than cutting the order as had been expected.
Under a compromise plan approved following protracted budget wrangling within the country’s ministerial committee, Israel will buy 14 of the aircraft now and another 17 in 2017, an Israeli defence official said yesterday without providing price details.
The newly agreed purchase will bring the number of planes in Israel's inventory to 50, or two squadrons, but the second stage of the purchase will be subject to another vote of approval nearer the time, the official added. Under the 2010 deal, it has an option to order an additional squadron's worth.
Israel bought 19 of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s for $2.75bn (£1.75bn) in 2010, with delivery scheduled between 2016 and 2018 and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon reached a preliminary agreement for 31 more F-35s during a visit to Washington last month.
But some members of the Strategic Affairs Minister said last month that the majority of members prefer a smaller order due to misgivings about the jet's high cost and untested capabilities –
The hold-up frayed ties with the USA, Yaalon told Israel's Army Radio earlier yesterday, concerned that a reduced Israeli purchase could have dented international confidence in the plane, a $399bn endeavour that is the world's most expensive weapons program.
The project received a boost last week though after Britain’s Ministry of Defence signed an agreement in principle to purchase four more of the jets as part of a plan to purchase 14 over the next five years. The aircraft are due to be delivered from mid-2016.
The jets will form part of Britain's first operational squadron of F35s. It has already taken delivery of three training jets, which are based in Florida, and last year ordered a fourth, also for test use.
The contract is part of a wider agreement between the US Defense Department and Lockheed for the production of a total of 43 F-35s for six different countries.