Israel is the first nation outside the United States to receive the next-generation stealth fighter, designed to meet the needs of all of the U.S. military services. It’s no coincidence that Israel is first, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the welcoming ceremony at the base.
“I think that this symbolizes the very significant character of the strength of the alliance between us and the U.S. We appreciate this steadfast alliance, the American commitment to Israel’s security, and the continuity from administration to administration, from decade to decade,” Netanyahu said. He thanked Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who attended the ceremony in Israel, and President Barack Obama.
The planes, whose center wing assembly is built at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant before final assembly in Texas, arrived the same day that President-elect Donald Trump singled out the $400 billion F-35 program for criticism. He said the cost is out of control, and he promised that billions will be saved on military purchases after he takes office Jan. 20.
Because of the complexity involved in meeting the demands of multiple services, the F-35 is years behind schedule and far over budget. Pentagon and Lockheed Martin officials have argued that the problems have been resolved, although the arrival of Israel’s first two planes was delayed because bad weather in Italy grounded them.
Israel is paying more than $100 million for each of the jets, which it has named Adir (Mighty One), and has contributed technology to the U.S. planes, particularly in the pilot’s interface with systems.
But Israel is making its own modifications to the F-35 and will handle its own testing and maintenance, so its version of the fighter will be unique.
With a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 (about 1,200 miles per hour), the F-35 can fly the length of Israel in 13 minutes, and its stealth technology is meant to allow it to strike targets without being detected by enemies. As a result, Netanyahu said, Israel’s “long arm” — its air force — will be longer once the aircraft become operational in about a year.
“Whoever thinks to attack us will be attacked,” he said. “Whoever thinks to destroy us puts himself in existential danger.”