Israel asks U.S. for 25 F-35 warplanes, at $80 million a unit
By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Israel, U.S., Lockheed Martin
Defense Minister Ehud Barak two weeks ago submitted a request to purchase 25 F-35 warplanes from the United States, at $80 million a unit.
The request also stipulates an option to obtain 50 more such warplanes in the future.
The defense minister also requested three to five C-130J planes, which are the most advanced model of the Hercules jets the Israel Defense Forces has been using for many years.
The decision to purchase the more updated models comes after two years of discussion, and was recently included in the framework of the IDF's multi-year plan, Tefen. According to the plan, Israel would acquire the first group of these fighter planes in 2014.
Haaretz has learned that some senior defense officials have asked the Americans on multiple occasions about the possibility of supplying some of the planes even sooner than the target date, by mid-2012.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the defense minister will make similar requests during their next visits to Washington.
The F-35 warplane is manufactured by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin. It has advanced stealth capabilities, can strike planes and can intercept ground targets. In some formations, the plane can also take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.
Lockheed Martin Vice President Bob Trice, who is visiting in Israel, said Thursday that U.S. government officials have informed the company of the request. He added that intends to assist Congress in any way he can during the approval process.
The new Hercules plane is capable of carrying more cargo and can be operated by a smaller crew. It is equipped with advanced avionics and navigation systems, and costs $50 million to $60 million per unit. These planes will be supplied to Israel as part of the American financial aid package it receives.
Lockheed Martin also manufactures the F-22 warplane, which is used by the U.S. Air Force. The F-22 is the most advanced warplane in the world and Israel has previously expressed interest in it.
However, legislation in the U.S. Congress forbids the sale of the F-22 on the grounds that it would diminish the U.S. Air Force's advantage.
Sources in Israel have expressed hope that U.S. President George W. Bush's recent visit to Israel would ensure the approval necessary to acquire the plane
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