M-346 jet
Photo: CC MilborneOne

Israel to buy Italian military training jets

Jerusalem says will purchase 30 M-346 planes, which will replace American Skyhawks; Italy to reciprocate by buying $1 billion in Israeli defense equipment; South Korea complained about lack of transparency in tender

Israel has reached a $1 billion preliminary deal to buy 30 Italian military training jets, Israeli defense officials said Thursday.


The agreement, which still needs formal government approval, marked the end of a long competition between Italy and South Korea over the lucrative sale.


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Israel announced it would buy the M-346, made by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi and designed for low-cost flights. The aircraft will replace American Skyhawks, which the Israeli Air Force has trained with for 40 years.


Italy will reciprocate the Israeli purchase by buying $1 billion in Israeli defense equipment, Israel's Defense Ministry said.


המטוס הנבחר. התחייבות לעסקת בסדר גודל דומה (צילום: CC MilborneOne)

'Cost-efficient.' M-346 jet (Photo: CC MilborneOne)


The ministry's director general, Udi Shani, said the offset deal enabled Israel to make the large purchase in a "harsh budgetary reality."


South Korea hoped to sell its T-50 aircraft to Israel and had issued a $1.6 billion counteroffer including buying the expensive Iron Dome anti-rocket system, defense officials said. As Israel considered its options, South Korea complained about a lack of transparency in the deal.


The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.


In a letter to South Korea, Shani wrote that "after close analysis of both the proposals, and at the conclusion of a long and comprehensive review process, it was decided that the Italian proposal was the most efficient choice for Israel's Ministry of Defense."


He cited the suitability of the jets to the "direct needs" of the Israeli air force, the cost and the "significant offset conditions."


Another security establishment official added that "our pilots have flown dozens of sorties to test the training jets, in South Korea as well as in Italy. Many parameters were examined, particularly the quality of training, safety and price. During these tests we came to the conclusion that in addition to the professional advantages, the Italian planes would be cheaper to operate."


Prior to the agreement, Israel asked Italy for clarifications regarding an incident in which one of the country's training jets crashed in Dubai. It was initially thought that the crash, which occurred a few months ago, may affect the tender's results.


"The Italians disclosed all the necessary data, photos and findings of the investigation into the accident, and we learned that the crash was the result of a technical malfunction in the electrical system of an aircraft that is a prototype and not a plane that had rolled off the production line," an Israeli defense official said.


"This malfunction is characteristic only of prototypes and is not relevant to the production line."


The decision disappointed Seoul, but Israel's security establishment does not believe it will lead to the suspension of security cooperation with the Koreans.


"There was a competition, and in every competition there is a losing side," a defense official said.


The Defense Ministry rejected claims it should not have made the purchase during a period of budget cuts. "The Skyhawk planes our pilots are using for training are over 40 years old," an Air Force official stated.


"The IAF has determined that continuing to use them would be very costly due to repeated technical problems, and they may put the pilots and even the citizens of the State of Israel in danger."


The deal only has initial approval and needs official authorization from Israel's defense minister, the government, and the Israeli parliament.


The Defense Ministry said the agreement is expected to be approved, and the planes are to be delivered in 2014.



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פרסום ראשון: 02.16.12, 17:38
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