Israel to procure third F-35 squadron, eventually bringing fleet to 75

Defense minister approves military’s recommendation to purchase additional stealth fighters, in deal estimated at $3 billion from US aid funds

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

An F-35i jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for new IAF pilots, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, June 29, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
An F-35i jet maneuvers during a graduation ceremony for new IAF pilots, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, June 29, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The Defense Ministry and military on Sunday said Israel would be procuring a third squadron of advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.

The additional 25 aircraft would bring the Israeli Air Force’s F-35i fleet to 75 in the coming years.

In a joint statement, the Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant approved the recommendation proposed by IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi; the director general of the ministry, Eyal Zamir; and chief of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, to procure the third F-35i squadron.

The ministry said it would issue an official letter of request (LOR) to the US military’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. “This step will facilitate the approval and signing of the transaction in the coming months,” the statement said.

The deal was estimated at $3 billion, financed by US military aid to Israel.

Israel is the second country after the United States to receive the F-35 from the aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.

The 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.”

“This new agreement will ensure the continuation of cooperation between American companies and Israeli defense industries in the production of aircraft parts,” it said.

F-35i fighter jets are seen at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel, in an undated handout photo. (Israel Defense Forces)

Joshua Shani, CEO of Lockheed Martin Israel, said the company was “honored that the Israeli government has announced its intent to purchase additional F-35s.”

“The Israeli Air Force has proven its capabilities in critical operations with the 116th and 140th squadrons, and we are looking forward to building on this strong performance,” he said.

“With a combination of stealth, sensor fusion, and electronic warfare, the fifth-generation F-35 will ensure the Israeli Air Force stays ahead of current and evolving threats to protect its borders and citizens for decades to come,” Shani added.

Israel had previously agreed to purchase 50 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. They are being delivered in batches of twos and threes until 2024.

As of November 2022, 36 F-35i jets had been delivered.

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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