Three F-35 stealth fighter jets touched down at the Nevatim Air Force base in southern Israel on Sunday, joining the two that arrived late last year.
In total, Israel has agreed to purchase 50 of the fifth generation stealth aircraft, known in Israel as the “Adir,” or “mighty one.”
Israel is the first country outside the United States to receive the state-of-the-art fighter jet, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
The jets are flown by American pilots to Israel. Upon landing, they officially become the property of the Israeli government.
The state-of-the-art F-35 is poised to become a central pillar of Israel’s air strategy, a senior air force official told reporters last November. The stealth fighter is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, capable of taking on most missile defense batteries, including the Russian S-300, which was recently acquired by Iran, and which has been used in Syria, where Israeli planes reportedly fly sorties.
The first of these landed in Israel last December.
There were no high-ranking officials to greet the incoming fighter jets on Sunday, unlike when the first two F-35s landed. That reception ceremony was presided over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and then-US secretary of defense Ashton Carter.
Over the coming years, the remaining 45 planes will make their way to Israel — a handful every few months.
According to IAF officials, it will take months — but likely less than a year — before the aircraft is declared combat operational, as the pilots and maintenance teams put the jet through its paces.
Israeli components will be integrated in the aircraft, which will be known as the F-35I.
Among its main features are advanced stealth capabilities to help pilots evade sophisticated missile systems.
The single-pilot jets can carry an array of weapons and travel at a supersonic speed of Mach 1.6, or around 1,900 kilometers per hour (1,200 miles per hour).
A pilot’s ultra-high-tech helmet, at a cost of some $400,000 each, includes its own operating system, with data that appears on the visor and is also shared elsewhere.
Thermal and night vision as well as 360-degree views are possible with cameras mounted on the plane.
Once servicing and maintenance costs are factored in over the aircraft’s lifespan through 2070, overall program costs are expected to soar to $1.5 trillion.
Israel is buying its first 33 F-35s at an average price of about $110 million (NIS 400 million) each, though the rest are expected to be slightly cheaper.
US President Donald Trump has publicly has upbraided Lockheed over “out of control” costs of the plane. It is the most expensive weapons program in history.
The company has said it will bring down the price in the future, as its production costs are expected to go down.