Officials in Ankara on Thursday announced that Turkey plans to purchase 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters worth $16 billion.
“Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, two of which will be delivered in 2015,” Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told the daily Milliyet.
Turkey has long planned to purchase about 100 jets to replace its ageing F-4 and F-16 fleet, but increasing costs have hampered the acquisitions.
The Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever.
The U.S. defense department plans to buy more than 2,400 of the aircraft at a cost of about 385 billion dollars. The cost of each plane is now well over $100 million.
Turkey's announcement comes as Israeli officials wrangle over the defense budget. Senior military officials say the 2012 increase of NIS 3 billion (approx. $800 million) is insufficient to meet growing security demands.
Israel has relied on flexibility, initiative and mobility to handle security and make up for less quantity with quality, but the upheaval of the Arab Spring and rising tensions with Iran have underscored growing defense needs.
Of principle concern is enlarging and modernizing armor and mechanized infantry forces for territorial defense, and obtaining strategic weapons platforms, allowing Israel to reach into what defense officials call the "third sphere" - namely, the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
Israel has purchased 20 F-35s and has an option on 75 more. However, the high cost of the fighter has proven prohibitive, despite Israel's long reliance on air superiority to balance the scales against more numerous enemies.
In late January, IAF chief Ido Nechustan said, “The process of strengthening air force capabilities taking place around us, in the Middle East, is among the most extensive in the world, including the procurement of aircraft and advanced technological measures."
"Some of these processes represent a challenge to the IDF's air superiority. We will have to endeavor onwards in order to preserve this superiority," he added.
Railing against insufficient defense spending, Nechustan said, “we would lose our air superiority. Our advantage is not just in technology, but also in the perception and realization of the technologies in the battlefield.”
The Pentagon decision to sell Ankara a large quantity of F-35s after it downgraded relations with Jerusalem amid a row over the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident has led some to question the Obama administration's motives for the sale.
While Obama has often declared his "unshakable commitment" to Israeli security, the sale could have a significant negative impact on Israel's qualitative technological advantage on the battlefield.
US officials have long sought to ensure Israel maintained a qualitative technological advantage - especially in terms of air power - over neighboring countries.
Under the Obama administration, however, sales of strategic weapons platforms to Israel's enemies that erode Jerusalem's battlefield advantage have become commonplace.