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New request moves Israel closer to JSF order

The Israeli air force has issued an updated request for proposal for the purchase of an initial 25 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The step moves Israel closer to signing a letter of agreement early next year, and to the first JSF deliveries to the nation in 2015.

A very senior Israeli source says the updated RFP was issued after Tel Aviv received indications that major problems related to its planned purchase "are on the right course to be solved".

One major hurdle has been the USA's refusal to allow the Israeli air force access to the F-35's network-centric warfare systems. The aircraft will carry advanced tactical datalinks which will allow them to share information with other fighters, plus additional airborne, surface and ground-based assets.

Another obstacle that has been dealt with in recent weeks relates to Washington's previous demand that Israel should send its F-35s to a European centre for maintenance.

"We told the Americans that this demand does not make sense when it comes to the Israeli air force, and we have a feeling that they understand," the source says.

Israel's first 25 aircraft will be US Air Force-standard conventional take-off and landing F-35As, but the nation is still interested in potentially also acquiring Lockheed's short take-off and vertical landing F-35B. A decision on the latter version will be made only after it is clear what the trade-offs are between the model's STOVL capability and operational performance, sources say.

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