Israel to get 20 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Stealth Fighters for $2.75 Billion

Israel's defense minister Lt. General (Ret) Ehud Barak has given thego-ahead to a $2.75 billion purchase of 20 Lockheed Martin F-35ILightning II fighter jets.
The new fighter will be provided along withan integral support package, sustaining the aircraft through itsservice life. The decision has yet to pass the approval of the Israeligovernment. The purchase will be funded by U.S. military aid to Israel.Israel originally planned to buy 75 such planes, with an initial optionof 25 aircraft. According to Israel MOD sources, the flyaway cost ofthese aircraft will be $96 million, but this cost reflects only the netplatform price.

The expenses including the preparation of the new squadron, initialinfrastructure, logistical and support package is expected eventuallyto exceed $150 million per plane. Given the additional integration costof locally developed Israeli systems planned for integration into thishighly complex aircraft, the cost is expected to rise significantly forthe fully equipped F-35Is in following years. Furthermore, for theseenhancement and adaptations Israel may have to rely on local currencyfunding, unlike the aircraft acquisition program that will be fundedentirely by the annual U.S. aid amounting over $2 billion per year.

How Much it Really Costs?

What Price InJuly this year Canada has ordered 65 F-35As fora total amount of C$9billion, reflecting a flyaway cost of $138 million. According toLockheed Martin, the Canadian F-35A is configured as the least costlyversion of the aircraft offered at a cost of US$60 million peraircraft. The remaining amount reflect training, logistics and supportcosts. Israel is expected to opt for one of the more expensive versionsof the stealth fighter, therefore it was priced slightly above theaverage cost of the F-35A (US$92.5 million). The manufacturer LockheedMartin is offering the new fighter with turnkey life cycle supportprogram. Although the cost and specific details of these supportpackages has not been announced yet, given the high readiness levelrequired by the IAF, U.S. analysts have determined the estimated lifecycle cost of the aircraft could reach up to $380 million.
Israeli pilots will begin training on the new aircraft by 2014 and thefirst aircraft are expected to arrive in Israel by 2015. The firstsquadron could become operational in less than two years at one of theIsrael Air Force (IAF) southern air bases. Four Israeli pilots havealready flew in the F-35 simulator in the U.S.A. The F-35 cockpit andavionics are not strange to the Israelis. Elbit Systems is the supplierof the advanced Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS), which providesthe pilot's primary interface with the aircraft.
Thedecision marks the culmination of a debate within the Israel defenseestablishment about the high cost of the program. Some argued thatcommitting such a large portion of the annual defense budget to asingle acquisition program is not justifiable, and that Israel shouldseek less costly alternatives for the modernization of its air force,especially, given the changing priorities of Israel's defense. Othersclaim that the fielding of the world's most advanced fifth generationaircraft creates an important deterrence, while maintaining the IAFqualitative edge over its regional opponents. Another issue was theinclusion of indigenous Israeli systems in this Fifth Generationfighter aircraft.
The initial F-35I will representstandard F-35A models. However, the F-35I acquisition agreement isopening opportunities for the installation of Israeli systems in futureproduction batches. These opportunities will also open the aircraft formarketing Israeli systems to other air forces, reflecting anopportunity worth several billions of dollars for the local industry.Maj. General (ret) Udi Shani, Director Israel of Israel MOD has statedthat the acquisition agreement also includes a framework for buybackpurchasing from the Israeli industry worth $4 billion. The introductionof Israeli components, systems and technologies into the world's newestfighter plane will also open a potential market opportunity worth about$5 billion among the aircraft users.

New Opportunities for Israeli Systems

The airframe,subsystems and components for the current models of the F-35 – the landbased F-35A, Carrier model F-35C and Short TakeOff Vertical Landing(STOL) F-35B are all contracted, but some of the weapons systems areyet to be decided, and open future opportunities for the Israelis.Among these are the air/air missiles – the types currently consideredfor the F-35 are the U.S. made AIM-9X, and AMRAAM, and European ASRAAMand Meteor. The Israelis could opt for the Stunner missile (Python 6)under development under a joint venture between Rafael and Raytheon.
TheStunner will provide a common missile that could replace both AIM-9Xand AMRAAM with a single missile. The missile is currently indevelopment a surface-to-air missile, due for first deployment in 2013.Its specifications have already been set to enable carriage andoperation by the F-35. Another weapon considered for the aircraft isthe Spice guided weapon. These weapons will be instrumental for thestealth fighter's 'first day' missions, where the networked-stealthfighters are expected to be penetrate and destroy enemy air defenses,paving the way for other strike fighters in their missions againstairfields, air defenses, and enemy fighters, to achieve air supremacy.Currently RAFAEL is offering a 2,000 lb and 1,000 lb versions of theSpice, all these weapons can be fitted within the F-35's internalweapons bay. The 500 lb version of the Spice, currently in development,could introduce multiple weapon carriage capability for the F-35, alongwith a full load of air-to-air missiles.
Communicationssystems will introduce another opportunity for the Israeli industry. Tointegrate within the Israeli command and control system the F-35I willhave to carry suitable datalinks, satellite communications terminalsand air to ground radios, to ensure integration with the IAF networkcentric system. The IAF may have to settle with the baseline systems,designed to maintain the aircraft low-observability. Yet theintegration of local protocols and waveforms is mandatory for the longrun, either on individual aircraft or over manned or unmanned supportsystems which could also offer interesting solutions for air forcesfacing the same challenge.
Another opportunity for theF-35 community is the employment of a new escort jammer developed byIsrael. Israeli EW systems are often offered with full access to theElectronic Warfare techniques generator, while U.S. jammers often relyon highly classified operating modes restricting the export of suchsystems. If the Israeli stand-off jammer can be adapted to the F-35stealth platform, it could provide an important capability that couldbe highly attractive for many F-35 users. The standoff 'escort' jammeris under development as part of collaboration between IAI/Elta andRafael could, could be adapted for the F-35, it could offer anattractive capability which is currently unavailable for export.

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