Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given his seal of approval to the purchase of 20 F-35 jet fighters from the United States. The deal is thought to be worth some 2.75 billion U.S. dollars but analysts told Xinhua on Monday that price tag is likely to rise considerably before the planes are delivered some four years from now.
The expense is not the only issue that is causing frustration and even anger in Israel, with the army and navy said to be disgruntled with the ease at which the air force manages to persuade the government to buy the latest and glitziest products.
There is also still some mystery surrounding the nature of the deal -- not in terms of the finances -- but rather regarding technology transfers and other allied topics.
The real deal
The current cost of an F-35 is thought to be just under 100 million U.S. dollars but Francis Tusa, the editor of the London- based Defense Analysis newsletter, believed that could well climb to 150 million by the time the planes are delivered.
Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv University, also tended to believe the price tag is not final and could even pass the 150-million mark.
Additionally, he questioned the promised delivery dates, pointing to the various delays in designing the F-35.
He wondered when the first aircraft will roll off the Lockheed Martin production line. "The dates have been put back all the time. Initially it was 2012, now maybe 2014. The development stage is not yet completed," said Shapir.
"There've been mishaps, bugs, there's the price and the supply date keeps getting pushed back," he said.
The timetable concern is shared by Yossi Melman, an Israeli senior security affairs commentator. Melman said that when F-35 is flown by Israel it could help little for the Jewish state to address a major of its security consideration, Iran. "When those planes will arrive they will have no use," Melman told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, once the planes are ready and sold to the United States, Canada, Israel and other countries, then the training program has to begin for the pilots, maintenance teams and sundry others.
"I would be surprised if Israel were to get operationally usable aircraft within four years," said Tusa.
The Israeli deal had been held up in several other key areas, too. Israel's air force requested certain alterations to the specifications of the aircraft and its munitions capabilities. There were differences as to where maintenance would be carried out. Israeli defense companies wanted to become third-tier partners in the project. On the electronic warfare front Israel wanted to install some of its own systems.
It is understood that all of these outstanding issues have now been resolved, some to the satisfaction of the Americans and others more to Israel's liking.
Israel, for example, will likely become a development partner as newer versions of the F-35 are unveiled. This guarantees billions of dollars of defense contracts for Israeli companies.
Israel wanted the United States to hand over some of the technological elements of the aircraft. The details of that arrangement have not been made public, but Tusa said other potential buyers would be extremely angry if detailed information was passed on to Israel.