Delivery of two F-35 jets delayed over issue in different model
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Delivery of two F-35 jets delayed over issue in different model

US military postpones transport of stealth fighters, but IDF says process of integrating advanced aircraft continues apace

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli F-35 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 2, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Israeli F-35 fighter jets perform during an air show over the beach in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 2, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The delivery of two F-35 fighter jets slated for this this week was postponed after a technical issue was found in another version of the aircraft, the IDF said Tuesday.

The two F-35 stealth aircraft were scheduled to arrive on Wednesday. The army did not announce a new date for their delivery.

“In accordance with a decision by the US Air Force, the arrival of two Adir jets will be slightly delayed in order to complete a process of technical inspections of the airplanes,” the army said in a statement, using its nickname for the F-35.

“The process of integrating the aircraft into the air force, ahead of it being declared operational, continues on schedule,” the IDF added.

Lockheed Martin unveils Israel's first F-35 fighter jet in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 22, 2016. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Martin unveils Israel’s first F-35 fighter jet in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 22, 2016. (Lockheed Martin)

The military would not disclose the nature of the issue. A spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the aircraft, also declined to comment, referring questions to the IDF.

According to military officials, the F-35 is expected to be cleared for full operational use by the end of this year.

The Walla news site, which first reported the story, said the problem was not found in the F-35I version purchased by Israel but in a different model of the aircraft.

In light of the discovery of the issue, the US military halted the delivery of the aircraft to ensure that they were not affected by the same problem.

While Israel has already paid for the F-35 jets that were supposed to be delivered on Wednesday, they do not actually become IDF property until they touch down in Israel.

As the US is responsible for the safe delivery of the aircraft, which costs approximately NIS 360 millions ($100 million), they are not prone to taking any chances with it.

An F-35 fighter jet, after landing in the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016 (IDF)
An F-35 fighter jet, after landing in the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016 (IDF)

This could be seen clearly during the delivery of the first two F-35 stealth fighters in December 2016, which was delayed by several hours as the planes were grounded in Italy due to fog.

Israel was the first country besides the United States to receive the F-35, and it has championed the advanced aircraft in the face of criticisms over a slow production process, high price tag and numerous setbacks over the years.

On Sunday, Israel finalized its agreement to buy 17 more advanced F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin on Sunday, which will bring the air force’s fleet of the aircraft to 50.

Israel is currently in possession of five F-35 stealth fighters, and the air force is scheduled to receive the remaining 45 in small batches over the next few years.

The initial order of 33 F-35 jets is expected to be completely delivered by 2021. The new batch of 17 airplanes is set to arrive by December 2024, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

An F-35 fighter jet lands in the Nevatim air base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
An F-35 fighter jet lands in the Nevatim air base in southern Israel on December 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet equipped with an array of the latest technology that is expected to anchor the Israel Air Force for years to come.

“Completing the deal to acquire 17 F-35 planes represents a significant and strategic addition of strength to the air force,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a statement.

The defense minister also noted that this deal is further evidence of “how deep the connection and military relations are between the State of Israel and our great friend the United States.”

The Defense Ministry would not specify the exact cost of the fighters, but it noted that for the first time, the F-35 jets will cost under NIS 358 million ($100 million) per airplane, which means the additional aircraft will likely set Israel back at least NIS 6.09 billion ($1.7 billion), not including the costs of additional maintenance and support equipment.

Israel receives over $3 billion a year from the US in military aid, and early this year the two countries agreed on a new aid package that will see Israel receive $3.8 billion annually through 2028, the vast majority of which must be used on purchases from American defense companies.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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