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Monday, February 16, 2009

US trying to get Israel to leave Joint Strike Force program?

In October, the Pentagon approved the sale of 25 F-35 stealth-enabled joint strike fighters to the Israeli Air Force, with an option to purchase up to 50 more. Just last week, I reported that cost overruns that may make the jets cost more than $100 million each were causing the IDF to rethink the purchase. Now, there's a new problem that should give further pause to Israeli purchases of the jets.

When Israel expressed interest in the jets, it asked to install its own technology on them. This wasn't just a question of buying Israeli out of patriotism. Israel fears that the jets will be sold to other countries in the region - like Saudi Arabia - and if our own technology is installed it will allow Israel to maintain a qualitative superiority even if the jets are sold to our enemies.
Israeli demands include installing an advanced radar and conformal fuel tank design for long-range missions made by Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as other electronic and weapons systems that could require changes to the configuration of the aircraft.

"We have unique needs and need to retain our superiority in the region," a senior defense official explained. "To meet these needs we must to be able to install our own systems."
The US is refusing to allow Israel - the first country to whom the jets have been offered which is outside the US and the eight countries who are full members of the Joint Strike Force program - to install its own technology.
Last week, in an interview with Aviation Week, Maj.-Gen. Charles Davis, executive officer of the JSF program, said that Israel would not be allowed to put its own systems in the JSF, also known as the F-35.

"They [Israel] are going to buy aircraft that have basically the same capability as all the others," Davis told Aviation Week. "They are trying to do a requirements analyses for future missions. That [customization] is doable through software. It is not doable by Israelis sticking boxes in the airplane. [Elbit and Elta being involved] is not an option," he says.
The IDF is now talking about delaying the purchase to some point beyond 2014. That would lower the cost, but would not solve the technology issue. And one cannot help but get the sense that the IDF feels its been had by the Americans:
In the past, officials said, before announcing a decision to purchase an aircraft the MOD first negotiated the installation of Israeli-made systems and then announced that it had made a decision. This, officials said, was the case with the F-15I and the F-16I.

However in the case of the JSF, the US refused to conduct the negotiations with the MOD until an announcement that it would procure the plane had been made. The announcement was made in October in an official request to the Pentagon.

A defense industry source familiar with the negotiations between Israel and the US said that the talks were "tough" but predicted that a deal would be reached in the coming months and that Israel would finally place an official order.
You can bet that there's going to be a lot of pressure placed on Israel to place that order. With a recession on, what is potentially a $75 billion order would be a huge boost for the American defense industries. You would think it would also be an incentive to make the customer king. And that has to make you wonder why the US is suddenly playing hardball.

Oh by the way, one of the countries that is a member of the Joint Strike Force is Turkey. Other members include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway and Denmark, each of whom contributed between $110 million (Denmark) and $2.5 billion (United Kingdom) towards the development costs, with the United States footing the balance of the bill. Israel and Singapore paid $20 million each to receive the lower level status of a 'security cooperative participant' in the program. Hmmm.


At 4:23 PM, Blogger Geoffrey Carman said...

This is insane stupidity on the part of the US! The Israeli offer to buy 25 F-35's early in the program is part of what is keeping costs down for the entire project!

The key is to ramp up to full production speed (and thus most cost effective) as early as possible. The US is stalling funding to do that, and the Israeli offer is a god send, since it allows them to ramp up for two years, earlier than they would have otherwise, keeping costs for the next 3000 planes lower.

You would not think it would make that much of a difference, but it is some weird kind of math in military aquisition programs where a one year delay costs billions down the road. It makes no sense, but is the reality.

Nixing the Israeli purchase shoots themselves in the foot. As the cost per plane goes up, they end up buying fewer, and the cost goes up again, as they were planning on amortizing those costs over 3000 planes. Drop it to 2000, and each of those planes is now much more expensive.

They get into a death spiral and the cost of the planes gets crazy, witness the F-22. Had they bought all 400 or so they initially planned, cost per plane would not be >$250 million.

At 5:19 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel can go ahead and build its own next generation fighter without the US-imposed restrictions. The only thing the US would lose is a solid customer. Israel is not without an alternative and the US cannot tell Israel what to put in its own fighter plane, which would be cheaper than those F-35s its been trying to acquire.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

Israel should team up with India to build their own fighters. The security needs are nearly the same and the cooperation would improve deterrent capabilities without the US or the Europeans.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger LB said...

Norman and Ashan - from your mouths to his ears.

Maybe this will be one step towards the end of American "aid" and actual Israeli independence. Bibi's views on this might be the best thing about the elections (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3084606,00.html).

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Israel should immediately start its own stealth fighter program as the current U.S. administration is showing itself to be hostile towards Israel. I believe in the capability of Israel to accomplish this and to build it better than the JSF.


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