The decision to move forward comes despite reports of possible delays and rising costs.
The IDF plans to approve the procurement of a second squadron of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a meeting of the General Staff later this month which will convene to finalize the military’s future multi-year program.
Called Oz (Hebrew for Strength), the new multi-year program is scheduled to go into effect towards the end of the year. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz will oversee deliberations on the program over the next few weeks and will bring the final plan to the government for approval.
One of the plan’s key elements is expected to be the procurement of a second squadron of F-35s despite reports of possible delays and a rise in cost. On Tuesday, the US Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the quality of production of the aircraft by Lockheed Martin citing a “potentially serious issue” with its electronic warfare capability.
“The committee is … concerned about production quality and whether it is sufficient to ensure the delivery of JSF aircraft to the US and its allies at an affordable price,” the committee said in a report accompanying its fiscal 2013 defense budget bill.
Israel placed an order for its first squadron of F-35s in October 2010 for $2.75 billion. Under the deal, Israel was supposed to receive 20 aircraft, but the number could drop due to the rising cost per plane. The aircraft are expected to begin arriving in Israel sometime in 2017.
The fifth-generation stealth F-35 is purported to be one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world with the ability to fly undetected in enemy territory. Its uniqueness stems not only from its stealth capabilities, but also due to its integrated sensor suite which provides pilots with unprecedented situational awareness and enables the sharing of information between the various aircraft.
The second contract would likely be of a similar number of aircraft and could mean – depending on when the second deal is signed – that the IAF could have 40 operational aircraft by the end of the decade.
Senate questions over the quality of production of the F-35 will compound the mounting woes of the $396 billion Pentagon program, which has already been restructured three times in recent years, extending the development phase and slowing production.
Italy has already scaled back its planned orders for the new, radar-evading warplane and several other countries are slowing their orders, citing budgetary pressures. Japan has warned it could cancel its order if the cost per plane rises from what it was offered.