A ceremony will be held to mark the occasion in the manufacturing factory the Lockheed Martin aerospace company in Fort Worth near Dallas, Texas. The IAF will become the first air force in the Middle East to possess the advanced plane, the first of which are expected to arrive in Israel toward the end of the year.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman will participate in the ceremony along with Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Col Tal Kalman and 400 other guests among whom will include Pentagon officials. The first plane will be flown by American pilots to the southern squadron base of Nevatim in December and could be soon integrated into first operational use.
In total, Israel is set to receive 33 such planes, with deliveries taking place over the course of the remaining year and next year. Six will be received annually until 2021 which will, together, form two squadrons.
One of the main unique capabilities of the plane is the ability to fly over enemy territory without being identified by radars. Moreover, it is able to carry 16 tons of bombs, missiles and fuel.
The Israeli government will need to decide, among other things, about the basis of the new multi-year military aid agreements currently being formulated as negotiations proceed between Jerusalem and Washington. It will also have to decide whether the third squadron will be comprised of F-35 planes or F-15 planes, the latter belonging to the company’s rival, Boeing, despite a preference on the newer planes.
One of the major pitfalls of the new model relates to the exorbitant price of each plane. Lockheed Martin explained during a conversation with Israeli reporters, that due to the efficiency and the expansion of the production lines, the price of every plane fell from $250 million in 2008 to $90 million last year, and that the aim was to reduce the price further to $85 million.
However, the price of every plane sold to Israel will be more expensive due to the unique accommodations demanded by the IAF which will distinguish it from other identical models acquired by other armies. The unique features for the Israeli model will include electronic warfare systems and the types of arms it can carry.
On top of this, Israel will foot the mammoth bill of $35,000 for every hour of flight. By contrast, the F-16 costs “only” $20,000 per flight hour. Once again this is due to the special fighting systems with which it is equipped which do not exists in previous fighter jet models.
One of the most secretive aspects of the plane lies in the production stage itself. In a separate sealed room which contains few windows and with limited access, agile robots paint the planes greenish-grey. The main significance of this 8-day process is that the plane is not easily visible to the enemy due to the special formula of the paint in a process known as encoding. Each layer of paint amounts to 1,500 litres.
During the next step of production, electronic systems scan every nook and cranny of the plane’s exterior to give it a shape which makes enemy radar detection next to impossible. A manual inspection is then conducted to ensure that there are absolutely no bumps on the plane. This is also intended to ensure that the plane is not detected by the enemy.
Continuing negotiations between the US and Israel
Initial talks regarding Israel’s acquirement of the F-35 began in 2008 between the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George Bush. During these talks, the two sides discussed the possibility of Israel purchasing up to 75 F-35 aircraft.
Apparently, Olmert had opposed acquiring F-35s planes. Indeed, he told the “calcalist” magazine (a supplementary paper to Yedioth Ahronoth) that he agreed only to the option of purchasing the planes, since he believed that it was best to keep the option open. However, Olmert maintained that purchasing the planes was a military and economic error, particularly on such as scale.
In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his then Defense Minister Ehud Barak signed a purchase order of 19 F-35 planes at the staggering cost of $2.75 billion. As was the case with the F-16 and F-15 which came before it, Israel and the US agreed that the new model would be equipped with unique specifications for Israel.
Lt. Col. Yotam, who was chosen to command the first stealth squadron of the Air Force, said: “The success of the ‘Adir’ plane will not be demonstrated by attacks in Gaza where everything is predominantly urban, but will be demonstrated by maintaining air superiority on the eastern front,” referring to the Iranian threat.