August 17, 2012
Credit: Credit: Lockheed Martin
TEL AVIV — Israel’s cabinet is holding a special session on the future of its military that is considering, among other things, a proposal to purchase a second squadron of F-35s.
“This is more than a debate about priorities between the Defense Ministry and other ministries. This is about the priorities within the defense budget itself,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Aug. 15 at the beginning of the specially convened meeting at the Ministry of Defense. “We will have to address the historic changes happening around us.”
Israel, he added, “is facing various threats and we have to be able to meet them. We have to make sure that the security Israeli citizens enjoy will continue in spite of the serious events in our environment.”
The challenge for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in bracing for the next five years is that it’s not sure what is in store for tomorrow. The past few days have seen the General Staff work out the IDF’s next five-year plan, dubbed “Oz” ( Strength), in order to submit cohesive recommendations to the cabinet. Oz is supposed to go into effect at the end of the year once it is approved by the IDF General Staff, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the cabinet. It is supposed to be a revision of Halamish, the former five-year plan that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz drafted last year but had to nix due to government-imposed budget cuts.
The surprise in Oz is the examination of potentially acquiring a second squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (48 aircraft instead of 24). Lockheed Martin is offering the Israeli Air Force a deal to acquire the second squadron at a lower price than the first squadron. Israel placed an order for its first squadron of F-35s in October 2010 for $2.75 billion. The first aircraft are expected to begin arriving in Israel sometime in 2017.
The General Staff workshop is already discussing the option of accepting the proposal while dramatically reducing the original plan to produce hundreds of Merkava Namer armored personnel carriers (APCs) from General Dynamics’ assembly line in Lima, Ohio. The problem is that Israel’s defense ministry has awarded General Dynamics a 2010 contract to build 600 Namer (“Leopard” in Hebrew) APCs over the next eight years. Canceling this contract could pose serious financial problems with General Dynamics.
Meanwhile, the dispute over the 2013 defense budget is gaining momentum. The treasury estimates defense spending would reach NIS 50.5 billion ($12.5 billion) in 2013, while the defense ministry expects no less than NIS 62 billion. Treasury officials presented data showing that the defense budget has reached NIS 60.578 billion this year, well above the figure of NIS 50.5 billion set out for 2012 in the original biennial budget.