Israel to buy second batch of US F-35 fighters

Israel to buy second batch of US F-35 fighters

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel and the United States have agreed the sale of a second batch of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters to the Jewish state, Israeli media reported Tuesday.

Haaretz newspaper said the deal, concluded by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, was for "at least 20" of the planes.

The Israeli defence ministry did not immediately respond to AFP's request for confirmation.

The Jerusalem Post said Israel signed a $2.75 billion (2.17 billion euro) deal in 2012 to buy a squadron of 19 F-35s from Lockheed Martin and received Pentagon approval to purchase an additional 75.

Both papers said delivery of the initial order should start by the end of 2016 and be completed by 2018.

The first planes of the second squadron should start arriving in 2019, they said.

The Post said that the two defence ministers finalised the new purchase "in recent days."

The men met last week in Washington to a backdrop of fresh tensions between the two allies over Israeli criticism of US foreign policy, Israeli announcements of settlement expansion and remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry linking the growth of militant Islam to Israel's decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.

Israeli company Elbit Systems is taking part in the manufacture of hi-tech helmets for F-35 pilots and state-owned Israel Military Industries manufactures aircraft parts.

The planes, which comes in conventional, vertical takeoff and aircraft carrier versions, have been hit by production delays and cost overruns.

Designed to replace fighters in the US Air Force, Navy and Marines and supported by a consortium of eight countries, the programme is the most expensive in US military history with a price tag of $395.7 billion.

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