June 26, 2013
Credit: Lockheed Martin
PARIS/TEL AVIV – Though late to sign on to the network of nations purchasing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Israel will be the first international customer to operate the fifth-generation fighter.
“Israel will become the first non-U.S. operator of the F-35 in the world,” said Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for F-35 program integration and business development in an interview at the Paris air show. The first F-35I combat squadron is expected to achieve initial operational capability in 2018.
Eight other countries have already committed to the program with firm contracts.
“The F-35 fighters going into service with these users will use different initial versions that will be upgraded later into the latest version, as it becomes available,” O’Bryan said. That mean F-35s will be tailored to individual nations, he says.
“Specific capabilities developed for certain users will remain exclusive, and open to other users only with the original user’s consent. For example, the software blocks pertaining to the Norwegian anti-ship missile will not be available to other F-35 operators except Norway, unless it decides to sell those missiles to one of the F-35 users. The same goes to the Rafael Spice 1000. Similarly, the advanced electronic warfare, data links and specific software modes developed for the Israeli air force will remain unique to Israel and not delivered to any other user. These capabilities will also be fully integrated with the aircraft capabilities, adhering to the stealth characteristics of the aircraft, particularly, at specific apertures cleared for the Israeli systems integration in the lower fuselage and leading edge,” he said.
The first Israeli pilots plan to arrive at Eglin AFB, Fla., for training on the F-35A in early 2016. The first aircraft is tentatively set to be delivered to the Israel air force toward the end of that year, and arrive in Israel in 2017.
These F-35Is will be produced under Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lots 8, 9 and 10. By that time, all 19 aircraft included under the $2.75 billion order will be delivered to the IAF under the current five-year plan. A follow-on order for more F-35Is is expected in 2018, under the next five-year plan. As the new fighter enters full-production rate, volumes are expected to increase, leading to proportionally lowering cost, expected to drop below $85 million in then-year dollars.
Financing of this follow-on procurement is already under discussion with the U.S. Jerusalem is seeking creative ways for Washington’s agreement to guarantee payment for these planes, including the foreign military sales budget allocated annually to Israel. If this concept is approved, Israel will be required to pay for the interest but will be able to commit willingly to follow-on orders and receive the second squadron immediately after the first is delivered.
“With the F-35 Israel is expected to receive the AIM-9X short-range air/air missile (AAM) and the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM Beyond Visual Range (BVR) AAM,” O’Bryan added. The F-35 currently carries the Raytheon AIM-9X Block at the outboard under-wing stations, in non-stealth configuration, as the current Block I missiles cannot be carried internally. This shortcoming will be corrected in Block II, which is to follow soon.