Israel inks deal to buy 25 more F-35 fighter jets for $3 billion

Stealth aircraft to be delivered in batches of 3 to 5 starting in 2028, eventually bringing IAF’s F-35I fleet to 75

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Israeli F-35 fighter jets fly in formation during the military's Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli F-35 fighter jets fly in formation during the military's Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday officially signed a deal with the United States to procure a third F-35 fighter jet squadron.

The ministry said a delegation to the US signed a letter of agreement for the $3 billion deal that included 25 advanced stealth fighters built by Lockheed Martin.

The planes would begin to be delivered starting in 2028, in batches of three to five per year, the ministry said. The aircraft would bring the Israeli Air Force’s F-35I fleet to 75 in the coming years. Only 39 of Israel’s original order of 50 F-35s have so far been delivered.

The deal totals some $3 billion, financed by US military aid to Israel, the ministry said.

The signing came following a mostly resolved row between Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich over the procurement. Smotrich had vetoed the signing until a Knesset committee tasked with looking at the defense budget was convened.

Gallant, in a statement following the signing, said the additional 25 fighter jets were “another illustration of the strength of the strategic alliance between the US and Israel and its extensive effects in arenas near and far.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to pilots at the Nevatim airbase in southern Israel, October 17, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in a brief statement, said it was “pleased by the Israeli government’s decision to procure 25 additional F-35s.”

Israel is the second country after the US to have received the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.

The Defense Ministry said that as part of an agreement between Israel and the US, Lockheed Martin and the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, “have committed to involving Israeli defense industries in the production of aircraft components sold.”

The IAF’s first two F-35I 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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