The Israel Air Force is set to decide within the next three to six months between purchasing a third squadron of F-35 jets or Boeing’s latest F-15I, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
With most of Israel’s aircraft up to 30 years ago, the IAF is modernizing its squadrons of aging fighter jets and helicopters in order to keep ahead of increased threats in the Middle East.
Israel’s air force has already received 12 F-35I “Adir” stealth fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin and is expected to receive a total of 50 to make two full squadrons by 2024.
While the original letter of intent signed between Israel and Lockheed Martin was for 75 aircraft, the IAF is currently deciding whether to purchase another 25 F-35s or to purchase an advanced squadron of the F-15s built by Boeing.
In the first deal, Israel purchased 19 F-35s at a cost of $125 million per plane, and a second deal of 14 jets saw Jerusalem pay $112 million each. The cost of the plane is set to drop to around $80 million by 2020.
“The plan is to get down to fourth generation costs for a fifth generation plane,” said Orlando P. Carvalho, Executive Vice President of the Aeronautics division at Lockheed Martin.
According to Carvalho, while nothing has yet been signed or officially ordered by Israel, the final fleet could include derivatives of F-35B which is flown by the US Marine Corps.
Israel has expressed interest in the past in acquiring the F-35B, which is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, an option that allows the jet to land on much shorter runways if the IAF’s bases are attacked by Iranian jets or missiles from Hezbollah.
“Israel has always purchased leading edge capabilities,” he said, adding that Lockheed Martin is always looking at where it can increase the capabilities of the F-35, such as new sensors and weapons systems like Rafael’s SPICE precision-guided bomb.
Israel is also the only country outside the United States which has been able to secure the rights to operate the plane’s brain – the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) – and add its own software onto it.
The IAF is also set to take delivery of an additional F-35 in 2020 which is being manufactured according to Israeli specifications, having a special suite of test instrumentation to be used to enhance the squadron’s capabilities during operations. The jet is expected to act as a test aircraft for modifications Israel would make to the plane.
While it is considered to be one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, the stealth aircraft is limited in the weapons it is able to carry as they have to be stored in internal munition boxes in order to maintain a low radar signature.
The F-15 model that Israel is interested in purchasing is able to carry large quantities of various types of munitions, advanced radar systems and various other upgrades to the earlier models. Since it is not a stealth plane, Boeing has designed its wings to be able to carry additional bombs and missiles.
Boeing’s F-15 is also set to be more expensive than Lockheed’s already expensive F-35, costing some $110 to $130 million per plane.
In addition to the fighter jets, the IAF is also currently deciding between Boeing’s Chinook and Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters.