Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Israel buys 14 more F-35s... With American money, of course.

Not a bad deal when you get to spend someone else's money.
In a move that should surprise nobody, Israel has announced that it intends to buy a few more F-35s to add to the 19 it initially ordered in 2010.

The newest order provides for a minimum of 14 F-35s, with an option to order up to 17 more.

The Israeli order is interesting for several reasons:

First is the fact that those F-35s are completely funded by the American taxpayer.  Not directly, of course, but the USA doles out approximately $3 billion worth of military aid to Israel annually.  That $3 billion also just so happens to be the cost of those 14 shiny new F-35s.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

The second reason the Israeli JSF buy is interesting is due to the fact that Israel, while putting very little investment into the program, seems be reaping plenty of benefits.  As a "Security Cooperative Participant", Israel would be below "Level 3" partners like Canada or Denmark.  Despite this relatively low tier status, Israel's first F-35 purchase came with industrial offsets of $4 billion or more (despite the purchase being completely covered under US military aid).  Meanwhile, higher tier partners like (Level 2) Australia will be lucky if they break even on the deal.

If all this was not enough to raise eyebrows, Israel will receive its own unique F-35 variant, designated the F-35I.  These will have different Electronic Warfare suites and Israel will have the ability to equip whatever weapons it sees fit.  This is unique amongst JSF users, who would otherwise be restricted due to the F-35's closed system.

IAF F-15I Ra'am


So why does Israel get such a deal?

At the risk of getting political, Israel is a very special case.  It a staunch American ally in part of the world that is not alway U.S. friendly.  This makes it an invaluable strategic asset in the Middle-East.  Israel itself has a volatile relationship with many of its neighbors, making its military a top priority.  Were it not for U.S. military aid, Israel could very well have been overrun years ago.

Another factor is Israel has one of the best air forces in the world.  A lot of what we know about modern fighter jet combat is a direct result of IAF experiences throughout the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War.  Because of this, the IAF has a definite understanding of what works and what does not. They also have little margin for error.  It is therefore understandable why they would insist on their own, proven equipment.

That would explain why Israel gets there own variant, anyway...

But why such a deal on industrial offsets?

This could simply be a matter of allowing Israel to "beta-test" new software and weapons for the F-35 without having to commit the entire program to it.  It also makes strategic sense to ensure that Israel has a strong military-industrial base, since it may not always be practical (or politically palatable) to supply it with U.S. made weapons of war.

Whatever the case, Israel is certainly an outlier in the world of JSF partners.  As such, it is hard for JSF supporters to point at it as an example of how successful the F-35 program is.

[NOTE:  With Israel and its current political situation being a controversial topic, I will take extra care reading the comments for this post.  I will remind all my readers that I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hate-speech.  This post is to merely illustrate Israel's F-35 deal.  It is not the place to discuss conspiracy theories, anti-semitism, or the quagmire surrounding the occupied territories.  I will ask you to tread lightly and stay respectful.]


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