WASHINGTON – The United States is freezing the production of F-35 stealth jets as part of a Pentagon budget cuts approved by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The cutbacks, estimated at $78 billion, are the biggest implemented by the American Department of Defense since September 11, 2001, and include a reduction of 37,000 soldiers from the Army and Marine Corps.
Sources in Washington told Ynet that the halt in the production of the advanced stealth jets would not affect the expected delivery of 20 planes to Israel, but that any additional request for combat aircraft on Israel's part would be affected.
The failure of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians about a month ago following the dispute over a renewed West Bank settlement construction freeze led to the annulment of an agreement for the sale of 20 additional F-35 aircraft to Israel.
Israel's Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren said about three weeks ago that in spite of the failed talks, Jerusalem still expected to receive the second F-35 squadron.
The first deal states that Israel would receive an F-35 squadron from 2015 to 2017 for $96 million per plane, along with simulators, spare parts and maintenance equipment, at a total cost of $2.75 bullion. According to Gates, freezing the F-35 project would save the Pentagon some $4 billion.
Gates told reporters that the Pentagon cuts were a result of the global recession and pressure within the United States to find ways to reduce expenses. He said he was aware of the fact that in order to maintain American interests in the world, the US Army must strictly examine its expense procedures.
Gates said the White House would propose a Department of Defense base budget of about $553 billion in 2012.
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