F-35 Review Could Impact Israeli Procurement

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel might have to reevaluate its procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter if a Pentagon review of the program results in a scaledown of production, The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a review of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, consistent with President Donald Trump’s criticism of it.

In a memorandum signed and effective immediately, Mattis said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will “oversee a review that compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent that the F/A-18E/F [Super Hornet] improvements can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective fighter aircraft alternative.”

Although the craft named in the directive is the F-35C, a variant not on the Israeli purchase list, a change in production could still affect Israel. For if the U.S. decides to reduce the number of aircraft the U.S. Navy purchases, it would mean an increase in the cost per aircraft for Israel, since the more planes are ordered, the less each one costs.

Israel would then be presented with a higher price tag, and decide whether to scale back its order. Israel is expecting to receive a total of 50 F-35’s by 2022, at a rate of 6-7 per year. According to an IDF spokesman, the F-35C is also still under consideration for future purchase.

The cost of an F-35A is almost double the cost of an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (priced at $52 million each), at $100 million per aircraft. On December 22, Trump tweeted that “based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”

Senior IDF officers have enthusiastically approved the F-35 deal, which they believe will guarantee Israel air superiority in the Mideast for years to come. The plane is said to be almost undetectable by radar, enabling deep penetration of enemy territory, and able to evade surface-to-air missile defense systems such as the Russian-made S-300s and S-400s deployed in Syria and Iran.

Yiftah Shapir, senior research fellow and head of the Middle East Military Balance Project, was quoted by the Post as saying that despite the review and possible increase in price, “it does not seem plausible that Israel would back down” from the project as it “is quite committed to the F-35.”

“Israel will not buy the F-18 because it is a plane which belongs to an older generation,” Shapir said, adding that “if Israel had to consider older planes, Israel would most probably consider purchasing newer versions or upgraded F-15 or F-16s.”