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USA moves on F-35 sale to Israel

The US government notified Congress about a possible major export deal to Israel for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter even as the contractor passed the 50th flight milestone for the first prototype aircraft.

The congressional notification confirms that Israel's known interest in buying up to 75 F-35s from next year is moving forward. "As the first potential foreign military sale of the F-35, this would be an important first step in expanding interest in the Joint Strike Fighter beyond the [US] and eight international F-35 partner nations," Lockheed Martin says.

Lockheed Martin F-35
 © Lockheed Martin

The notification clarifies that Israel could buy an initial 25 F-35A conventional take-off and landing fighters. An option for 50 more F-35As or F-35B short take-off and vertical landing fighters could also be included.

Exercising all options would bring the value of the deal to $15.2 billion, including logistics support and special sensors and equipment for the F-35.

The sale could involve either Pratt & Whitney F135 or General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engines, implying that Israel may seek to compete the engine contract, according to the notification by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Israel would be the first customer outside the USA to sign a deal for more than one or two F-35s. The UK and the Netherlands are both acquiring one or two aircraft each to participate in the operational testing phase.

Lockheed is also making slow progress during the flight-test phase. The AA-1 prototype, which achieved its first flight in December 2006, passed the 50th flight milestone about 20 months later.

AA-1 was grounded for months to allow the power system to be redesigned after an in-flight scare in May 2007. Flight tests also paused for several weeks in August while Lockheed water-proofed wiring for nacelle vent fans that often short-circuited in humid conditions.

That aircraft will soon be flown from Fort Worth in Texas to Edwards AFB in California, to complete additional flight tests.

Meanwhile, the first STOVL prototype, BF-1, is grounded after completing 14 flights until a redesigned engine turbine blade becomes available by the end of the year. The second flying STOVL prototype, BF-2, is undergoing ground tests.

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