Israel Signs Contract For Third F-35 Stealth Fighter Squadron

The Israeli Defence Ministry officially signed a $3 billion contract for the procurement of 25 new F-35A fifth generation fighters on June 4, which will bring its fleet up from 50 to 75 aircraft. The ministry had confirmed plans to make such an acquisition in July 2023, with the final decision was made by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant after consultations with Israeli military and defence officials. Following the signing Gallant stated that the acquisition was “another illustration of the strength of the strategic alliance between the US and Israel and its extensive effects in arenas near and far,” with the ministry elaborating that the agreement entailed “involving Israeli defence industries in the production of aircraft components sold.” The sale of new military equipment to Israel has raised growing controversies internationally due to widespread allegations of genocide in the country’s ongoing invasion and intensive bombardment of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which has fuelled calls for an arms embargo. Israeli F-35s were notably able to make significant contributions to the war effort, as well as to bombing raids against neighbouring Lebanon, due to a surge in the provision of spare parts by a number of Western states which allowed the fleet to sustain higher availability rates. 

Significant issues with F-35 production, which remains at a fraction of initially planned rates, has resulted in a very long delivery queue, meaning Israel will only begin to receive the newly ordered fighters from 2028 should there be no further delays. Only 39 of the originally ordered 50 aircraft have so far been delivered, with these spread over the past eight years, with the second squadron formed in January 2021. In parallel to the F-35 Israel is also reported to be considering acquiring up to 50 of the more costly and much larger F-15EX fighters, which are by far the longest ranged in the Western world and carry several times as much firepower as F-35s. The F-15’s value for engaging large numbers of enemy drones was demonstrated in April when the U.S. Air Force deployed F-15E fighters to neutralise several dozen Iranian drones which had been launched for a strike on Israel. The F-35’s shorter range has created issues for Israel should it seek to strike its primary regional adversary Iran, with the aircraft requiring either aerial refuelling or carriage of external fuel tanks to reach targets in the country – both of which compromise their stealth capabilities. The F-15 by contrast can comfortably engage targets across Iran, but is vulnerable due to its total lack of stealth particularly as Iran has significantly modernised its air defences in recent years. 

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