NEW YORK (Reuters) - Israel signed a $2.75 billion deal on Thursday with the United States to buy about 20 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, the first buyer outside the aircraft’s nine-nation co-development group.
Israel is to receive the jets from 2015 through 2017, according to an Israeli statement released at a signing ceremony.
However, retired Major General Ehud Shani, director-general of the ministry of defense, said the aircraft would start arriving in 2016. He told reporters Israel had an option to buy a “couple of dozens” more of the radar-evading fighter.
Shani said at the signing that Israel expects to incorporate its own technology into the aircraft. The purchase had been delayed by issues such as Israel’s preference for building in its own electronic warfare, communications and other systems.
There are “unique requirements,” said John Giese, a Lockheed Martin spokesman at the signing.
“We’re very pleased with their decision to move forward with F-35s,” John Kent, a Lockheed Martin spokesman in Fort Worth, Texas, where the F-35 is in early production, said in a telephone interview. He referred questions on the sale to the U.S. government, which is brokering the deal under its foreign military sales program.
“Iran is a problem for all the democratic and free world, and one of the answers ... concerning this problem is the F-35,” Shani told reporters at the signing.
Israeli leaders have spoken of arch-foe Iran potentially developing a nuclear weapon by mid-decade, suggesting that the F-35 would not be used for any prevention action but rather to bolster the country’s deterrence.
The U.S. Defense Department had no immediate comment.
Reporting by Lynn Adler in New York and Jim Wolf in Washington, editing by Matthew Lewis