The Israel Air Force (IAF) is completing its plan to replace its fleet of combat jets, transport planes, and helicopters, ahead of the IDF headquarters workshop for the formulation of its Keshet five-year plan. In an exclusive interview, IAF chief procurement officer Brig.-Gen. Zeev Snir told “Globes” that the key part of the plan was to procure the next-generation US combat jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Snir said the plan was to buy over 100 F-35s, which would gradually replace the IAF’s F-16s.
The F-35 will be built in three configurations: a navy version for use on carriers, a vertical take-off and landing version for the US Marines Corps, and a regular take-off version for the air force. Snir said the IAF would buy the air force version, but was also considering the other two versions. Under the IAF plan, the first F-35s will come into service in the mid-2010s. They will initially replace older F-16 models, and gradually replace the entire fleet. Each F-35 costs $50 million, and the 100-plane deal will cost at least $5 billion.
Snir will reportedly soon go to the US to test the latest model of the C-130 Hercules transport plane (the C-130J). The IAF is considering buying six C-130Js at a cost of $500 million.
Snir said the F-35 was the only combat jet relevant to Israel’s needs, partly because the IAF believes that it is only jet that will be available in the next decade. The US Air Force will also procure F-22 air supremacy fighters over the coming years, but Congress limited the procurement to 180 jets, and the US has no intention of selling the plane to other countries. Snir said, “The IAF would be happy to equip itself with 24 F-22s but the problem at this time is the US refusal to sell the plane, and its $200 million price tag.”
The IAF will complete procurement of 102 F-16Is (known as the “Sufa”, or “Storm” in Israel), built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT) in two years. For the past three years, the Ministry of Defense has been negotiating with the Pentagon over procurement of the F-35. However, during the negotiations it became apparent that the Pentagon would not allow the IAF access to the computers that will be installed in the F-35. Access is necessary to upgrade the computers and integrate them with new ordinance, communications, and electronic warfare systems. The Pentagon previously allowed the IAF’s access to computers of the F-15 and F-16.
Snir said, “The interpretation given to the US refusal, making out that this is a great crisis, is utter rubbish.” He said the US rejected similar requests from other air forces interested in procuring the F-35. Even the UK, which is investing $2 billion in the program, was denied access, and only after last week’s meeting between US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair did the Pentagon allow the RAF access to the F-35 computer.
Snir adds, “It should be remembered that Israel has invested only $35 million in the F-35, whereas Italy and the Netherlands have invested almost $1 billion each.” He says the US is refusing to grant access to the F-35 computer because its architecture is different. He stressed that Israel obtained access to the F-15 and F-16 computers only after their development was completed. He said there was no dispute with the US that IAF F-35s would include Israeli communications and electronic warfare technologies and missiles developed by Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd.
Another large IAF program is a $100 million upgrade of Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters (known in the IAF as the Yasur) to extend their operational lifespan by 20 years. The IAF aviation maintenance unit is carrying out this program, which is scheduled to be completed in two years.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on June 21, 2006
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