In a special ceremony that was held in New York on Thursday, Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani signed an agreement that will see Israel purchasing its first squadron of F-35 stealth fighter jets from the US for $2.75 billion.
The American side was represented by Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs, Heidi Honecker Grant, and Vice Admiral David Venlet, head of the Pentagon's F-35 program.
As part of the agreement, Israel is expected to receive F-35 stealth fighters from the US between the years 2015 and 2017, at a cost of $96 million per aircraft. This includes engines, simulators, spare parts, and maintenance.
According to a report in Aviation Week last month, the F-35 will have Israeli add-ons, such as altering the cockpit interfaces to use the IDF communications, control and intelligence systems, installing Israeli equipment on its main computer, and installing a detachable fuel tank that would make the plane easier to detect when attached, but would extend the aircraft's range.
The purchase agreement was approved by the Israeli government, the Knesset and the security establishment.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave their final approval for the purchase last month, at which time Netanyahu said: “Purchasing this fighter jet, the most technically advanced on earth, is a significant step in strengthening Israel's military prowess.”
Shani said during Thursday's signing ceremony: “This is an historical event and a new era for Israel’s defense and strategic strength, as well as for maintaining the Israeli army’s advantage over its challenges, in circles near and far over many years. This is in addition to the tremendous significance to the national economy, as is reflected in the commitment by the manufacturer to make purchases worth billions of dollars from Israeli industries.”
He added that Israel intends to purchase even more stealth fighter jets in the future, and said that the agreement “is another expression of the strategic alliance and friendly relations with the United States and its commitment to Israel’s qualitative advantage.”
Tom Burbage, Vice President of Lockheed Martin, the company which manufactures the F-35 Lighting II aircraft, said on Thursday that his company is “extremely satisfied by the Israeli government decision to move forward with the acquisition process,” and added that the agreement is “an additional step in the long lasting relationship between Lockheed Martin and the State of Israel. The Lightning II will strengthen Israel’s national security, from both the military and industrial sides.”