Friday, 24 September 2010

Israel, Canada to share work on F-35 fighters

Canada and Israel experienced a brief frisson of diplomatic tension late last month when military technology developer Lockheed Martin granted Israel a lucrative maintenance contract on the development of its new F-35 Lightning II – a.k.a. the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft – despite not having invested in production of the warplane.

Canada and other NATO allies, such as Denmark, Italy and Britain, had all previously committed funds to develop the stealth fighter in order to secure domestic industrial contracts on the fighter.

In early August, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Defence Ministry Director General Udi Shani visited the United States and met with senior officials in the Pentagon, as well as representatives of Lockheed Martin, to discuss Israel’s role in the maintenance contract and purchase of the aircraft.

They agreed that Israel would buy an initial squadron of 20 F-35 jets – at a total cost of $2.75 billion (US) – from the first production series and would only install a few Israel-made systems.

The Americans, meanwhile, agreed that if Israel buys more F-35 squadrons from later production series of the aircraft, the installation of more Israeli-made systems would be allowed. Israel has expressed its desire to eventually purchase 75 planes in total.

To sweeten the deal, Lockheed Martin said it would buy parts and systems for the F-35 from Israeli companies at a cost of $4 billion.

It’s this latter incentive that had some Canadian military and industry officials asking why Lockheed Martin would offer such a deal to Israel, but the government shrugged off suggestions of any ill will toward the deal.

Jay Paxton, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, told The CJN that Canada “welcomed” Israel’s purchase of the jets.

“The government of Israel recently signed an industrial participation plan with Lockheed Martin to facilitate Israeli participation in the JSF program. The plan is… similar to the one Canada signed with Lockheed Martin in 2006,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Paxton added that Canada will also receive “a decrease” in the price of its jets as a result of Israel’s acquisition.

“As well, Canadian industry will reap millions in additional contracts building parts for Israeli jets,” he added.

In a Sept. 10 report in the Vancouver Sun, Defence Minister Peter Mackay said Canada has contributed nearly $170 million to develop the F-35 and that Canadian firms have already been awarded close to $300 million in contracts for the plane.

The government plans to spend $9 billion to buy the fighters for Canada’s Air Force, but it has been criticized by opposition parties for not obtaining guaranteed industrial regional benefits from Lockheed Martin in exchange.

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