Israel signed a deal to buy additional 17 stealth F-35 US-made fighter jets, the Defence Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. The purchase was part of a larger deal to buy a total of 50 F-35 planes, the first of which arrived in Israel in December, Xinhua reported. The deal was signed over the weekend in the US, the statement said, following a cabinet decision from November 2016, which approved the purchase.
The acquisition is part of Israel’s plan to replace its fleet of F-16 fighter jets with 50 new F-35, citing a need to ensure its military’s qualitative edge in the region. Currently, the Air Force has five F-35s, all are amidst “absorption process” and are expected to become operational by the end of 2017, according to the military.
The Defence Ministry did not specify the exact cost of the planes but said that in the recent deal, the price of the jets went under $100 million per plane for the first time. The Ministry said that due to the lower price, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) will consider buying more planes, expanding the fleet from two squadrons, as currently planned, to three squadrons.
In 2011, Israel and Washington signed a Memorandum of Understandings, in which the US Administration committed to enabling Israel to buy 75 F-35s. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the deal as “a significant and strategic addition of strength to the Air Force.”
“The F-35 squadrons are the pinnacle of technology and will assist the IDF and air force in meeting the many security challenges Israel faces head-on. They are a central aspect of protecting the safety of the people of Israel along the country’s borders and even away from them,” he said in a statement.
The high-tech fighter bombers have stealth capability that makes it nearly invisible to radars and can carry an increased number of bombs. The aircraft, manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp., was criticized in the US Congress over its costs and alleged engineering flaws.