Israel to get 20 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Stealth Fighters for $2.75 Billion


Israel’s defense minister Lt. General (Ret) Ehud Barak has given the
go-ahead to a $2.75 billion purchase of 20 Lockheed Martin F-35I
Lightning II fighter jets
.
The new fighter will be provided along with
an integral support package, sustaining the aircraft through its
service life. The decision has yet to pass the approval of the Israeli
government. The purchase will be funded by U.S. military aid to Israel.
Israel originally planned to buy 75 such planes, with an initial option
of 25 aircraft. According to Israel MOD sources, the flyaway cost of
these aircraft will be $96 million, but this cost reflects only the net
platform price.

The expenses including the preparation of the new squadron, initial
infrastructure, logistical and support package is expected eventually
to exceed $150 million per plane. Given the additional integration cost
of locally developed Israeli systems planned for integration into this
highly complex aircraft, the cost is expected to rise significantly for
the fully equipped F-35Is in following years. Furthermore, for these
enhancement and adaptations Israel may have to rely on local currency
funding, unlike the aircraft acquisition program that will be funded
entirely by the annual U.S. aid amounting over $2 billion per year.

How Much it Really Costs?

What Price In
July this year Canada has ordered 65 F-35As fora total amount of C$9
billion, reflecting a flyaway cost of $138 million. According to
Lockheed Martin, the Canadian F-35A is configured as the least costly
version of the aircraft offered at a cost of US$60 million per
aircraft. The remaining amount reflect training, logistics and support
costs. Israel is expected to opt for one of the more expensive versions
of the stealth fighter, therefore it was priced slightly above the
average cost of the F-35A (US$92.5 million). The manufacturer Lockheed
Martin is offering the new fighter with turnkey life cycle support
program. Although the cost and specific details of these support
packages has not been announced yet, given the high readiness level
required by the IAF, U.S. analysts have determined the estimated life
cycle cost of the aircraft could reach up to $380 million.
Israeli pilots will begin training on the new aircraft by 2014 and the
first aircraft are expected to arrive in Israel by 2015. The first
squadron could become operational in less than two years at one of the
Israel Air Force (IAF) southern air bases. Four Israeli pilots have
already flew in the F-35 simulator in the U.S.A. The F-35 cockpit and
avionics are not strange to the Israelis. Elbit Systems is the supplier
of the advanced Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS), which provides
the pilot’s primary interface with the aircraft.
The
decision marks the culmination of a debate within the Israel defense
establishment about the high cost of the program. Some argued that
committing such a large portion of the annual defense budget to a
single acquisition program is not justifiable, and that Israel should
seek less costly alternatives for the modernization of its air force,
especially, given the changing priorities of Israel’s defense. Others
claim that the fielding of the world’s most advanced fifth generation
aircraft creates an important deterrence, while maintaining the IAF
qualitative edge over its regional opponents. Another issue was the
inclusion of indigenous Israeli systems in this Fifth Generation
fighter aircraft.
The initial F-35I will represent
standard F-35A models. However, the F-35I acquisition agreement is
opening opportunities for the installation of Israeli systems in future
production batches. These opportunities will also open the aircraft for
marketing Israeli systems to other air forces, reflecting an
opportunity worth several billions of dollars for the local industry.
Maj. General (ret) Udi Shani, Director Israel of Israel MOD has stated
that the acquisition agreement also includes a framework for buyback
purchasing from the Israeli industry worth $4 billion. The introduction
of Israeli components, systems and technologies into the world’s newest
fighter plane will also open a potential market opportunity worth about
$5 billion among the aircraft users.

New Opportunities for Israeli Systems

The airframe,
subsystems and components for the current models of the F-35 – the land
based F-35A, Carrier model F-35C and Short TakeOff Vertical Landing
(STOL) F-35B are all contracted, but some of the weapons systems are
yet to be decided, and open future opportunities for the Israelis.
Among these are the air/air missiles – the types currently considered
for the F-35 are the U.S. made AIM-9X, and AMRAAM, and European ASRAAM
and Meteor. The Israelis could opt for the Stunner missile (Python 6)
under development under a joint venture between Rafael and Raytheon.
The
Stunner will provide a common missile that could replace both AIM-9X
and AMRAAM with a single missile. The missile is currently in
development a surface-to-air missile, due for first deployment in 2013.
Its specifications have already been set to enable carriage and
operation by the F-35. Another weapon considered for the aircraft is
the Spice guided weapon. These weapons will be instrumental for the
stealth fighter’s ‘first day’ missions, where the networked-stealth
fighters are expected to be penetrate and destroy enemy air defenses,
paving the way for other strike fighters in their missions against
airfields, air defenses, and enemy fighters, to achieve air supremacy.
Currently RAFAEL is offering a 2,000 lb and 1,000 lb versions of the
Spice, all these weapons can be fitted within the F-35’s internal
weapons bay. The 500 lb version of the Spice, currently in development,
could introduce multiple weapon carriage capability for the F-35, along
with a full load of air-to-air missiles.
Communications
systems will introduce another opportunity for the Israeli industry. To
integrate within the Israeli command and control system the F-35I will
have to carry suitable datalinks, satellite communications terminals
and air to ground radios, to ensure integration with the IAF network
centric system. The IAF may have to settle with the baseline systems,
designed to maintain the aircraft low-observability. Yet the
integration of local protocols and waveforms is mandatory for the long
run, either on individual aircraft or over manned or unmanned support
systems which could also offer interesting solutions for air forces
facing the same challenge.
Another opportunity for the
F-35 community is the employment of a new escort jammer developed by
Israel. Israeli EW systems are often offered with full access to the
Electronic Warfare techniques generator, while U.S. jammers often rely
on highly classified operating modes restricting the export of such
systems. If the Israeli stand-off jammer can be adapted to the F-35
stealth platform, it could provide an important capability that could
be highly attractive for many F-35 users. The standoff ‘escort’ jammer
is under development as part of collaboration between IAI/Elta and
Rafael could, could be adapted for the F-35, it could offer an
attractive capability which is currently unavailable for export.