Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday approved the purchase of a fleet of US-built F-35 strike fighters in a move set to ramp up the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force.
The minister “approved in principle” a recommendation by the military to purchase the F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a statement from his office said.
Israel is initially expected to buy 20 of the aircraft in a deal worth an estimated 2.75 billion dollars, the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said in several reports published last week.
Should the deal be approved by the security cabinet, it will be the most expensive weapons deal ever signed by the Jewish state, it said.
“The F-35 is the fighter plane of the future which will give the air force better short-range and long-range capabilities which will help state security,” Barak said in the statement.
Delivery of the first F-35s, which are still not yet operational, is expected only in 2015, the paper said.
The price includes the cost of setting up a logistical infrastructure in Israel to allow local firms to assemble the fighter plane and manufacture spare parts for it.
Udi Shani, defence ministry director general, said a key element of the deal was an agreement which would allow Israeli industries to get involved in the assembly of the plane and the manufacture of spares.
“The considerations for approving the deal were not just about the operational abilities of the plane but the agreements for involving Israeli industries in the assembly of the plane,” the ministry quoted him as saying.
Acquisition of the F-35, which is made by US aerospace and defence giant Lockheed Martin, will give Israel access to stealth technology that will provide it with air superiority over enemy anti-aircraft defences.