Defense Minister Ehud Barak
on Sunday authorized the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry recommendations to purchase 20 F-35I stealth fighter aircraft from the United States for $2.7 billion (roughly NIS 10 billion).
The F-35I is considered the most advanced combat jet. The main obstacle in signing the deal was its high cost and the cost of installing Israeli systems in it. The first jet is slated to arrive in Israel
in 2015, however Israeli pilots will get a chance to hold training flights on it in the US a year earlier.
After Barak's approval, the Political-Security Cabinet has to sign off on the deal. Production will start after the Defense Ministry and US Congress have drafted a written agreement.
The defense minister expressed satisfaction with the launching of the deal and was confident that the new jets will enable Israel to maintain its aerial control in the region. "The plane will provide the Air Force with better abilities in close and distant circles in a way which will help fortify state security."
Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani noted that in addition to the operational aspect, the deal will allow the installation of Israeli systems in the planes not only for the Israel Air Force, but for additional clients - worth at least $4 billion. It is estimated that future investment in the Israeli industry could amount to $5 billion.
Meanwhile, the IAF is considering where to place the new squadron. Despite the great strategic importance attributed to the F-35, IAF elements noted that the IDF with its current means is still equipped for its various missions.