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Defense minister urges purchase of a third squadron of F-35s

Gantz says he has already asked US about expanding current inventory, hopes additional weapons deals can be concluded before Trump leaves office

An F-35 jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for pilots who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
An F-35 jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for pilots who have completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 26, 2018. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that Israel should purchase a third squadron of the advanced F-35 strike aircraft from the US and that he has already brought up the topic with the Washington officials.

Speaking to the Ynet news site, Gantz said he hoped that Israel can still conclude weapons deals with the US before the Trump administration comes to an end in two weeks.

“Without a doubt we need to expand our F-35 lineup,” he said. “We now have two squadrons, and I reckon that we will expand them. That is what I asked of the Americans.”

“The number of planes that we buy is a function of how much money will be available. After all, these toys are very expensive,” Gantz said. “If it were just up to me, I would buy another squadron, and then afterwards look at what I would do with the balance — buy more F-35s or go for the F-15.”

Screen capture from video of Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an interview the the Ynet news website, January 4, 2021. (Ynet)

Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. They will be delivered in batches of twos and threes until 2024. Israel is the second country after the United States to receive the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.

The IAF’s first two F-35 jets arrived in December 2016. Approximately a year later, the stealth fighter — known in Israel as the Adir — was declared operational, and several months after that, the head of the air force revealed that the aircraft had conducted bombing raids, making Israel the first country to acknowledge using the planes operationally.

The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

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