Israeli industry officials will continue pushing for a larger role in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme, after winning a key victory on weapons integration.

An Israeli air force order for up to 75 F-35s would include an agreement to integrate the Rafael Python 5 short-range air-to-air missile and Spice precision-guided weapon kit, the F-35 Joint Program Office told Reuters on 23 November.

The announcement, however, falls short of Rafael's full demands for industrial access to the F-35's weapons mix.

"It's in the right direction for us," says Lova Drori, Rafael's executive vice-president for marketing, who notes that the company makes "other weapons" beside the Python and Spice. These include the medium-range Derby air-to-air missile, while the company also acknowledges undisclosed work on several classified programmes for the Israeli defence forces.

Israel Aerospace Industries also wants a major role in the F-35 supply chain in return for Israel agreeing to sign an order.

"The Israeli air force is an important customer, a very prestigious customer," says Amnon Weidberg, deputy director for marketing and business development for IAI's Lahav division. "I hope the Israeli government will leverage [its clout] with Lockheed Martin to give us more work."

In particular, IAI wants to continue its role as a major structures supplier for the Boeing F-15 and Lockheed F-16, which are both the result of previous Israeli air force orders. IAI officials note that they have a high supplier ranking with Lockheed, delivering all of the wings ordered for F-16s.

It is not clear how the Israeli air force will maintain any F-35s beyond performing frontline repairs. Lockheed has designed the F-35's logistics systems to support hubs in the USA, Europe and Asia. But Israel traditionally requires depot-level work on its combat aircraft to be conducted in-country, most often by IAI.

The Joint Program Office also told Reuters that Israeli electronic warfare systems would be excluded from any purchase agreement, with this representing a severe blow to IAI's Elta Systems subsidiary. Elta also has lobbied to offer its active electronically scanned array radar for the F-35, but this is also unlikely to be approved.

Source: Flight International