Israel Moves Forward on F-35 – with Israeli Features

Israel moves forward on F-35 purchase after getting permission to install Israeli features, may build F-35 wings.

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Maayana Miskin, | updated: 22:29

F-35 Evader
F-35 Evader
Israel news photo: Lockheed Martin

Israel has decided to move forward on a planned purchase of F-35 airplanes from the United States after getting approval to install Israeli munitions and features in the planes, according to Aviation Week. A senior Israel Air Force commander told the paper that the American plane with Israeli add-ons would be known as the F-35I.

The plane's cockpit interfaces will be altered to use the IDF communications, control and intelligence systems, the source said, and its main computer will allow for the installation of Israeli equipment.

The U.S. has also agreed to the installation of a detachable fuel tank to the F-35I. The fuel tank would make the plane easier to detect when attached, but would extend the aircraft's range. The official said that the feature could be used in an attack where stealth is needed only toward the end of the mission, a comment seen as a reference to a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Israel is also in talks to build the wings of 25% of the F-35 planes produced, according to Reuters. Lockheed Martin plans to build 3,200 F-35s, and Israel Aerospace Industries hopes to build wings for 800 of them. 

Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the purchase of 20 F-35s in mid-August. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to sign off on the deal.

The purchase has created controversy in the defense establishment, as some say that the F-35 will not meet Israel's needs, and that Israel should purchase additional F-15 or F-16 planes instead. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has voiced his disapproval of the purchase, and says the deal will be reconsidered.