The first fleet of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets has been delivered to Israel and is expected to land in the occupied Palestinian lands on Monday afternoon, the Pentagon says.
According to a statement by the Pentagon, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in Israel to address a welcoming ceremony at Nevatim Air Force Base near Beersheba, where two Lightning II fifth generation fighters were expected to touch down.
The ceremony will be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Military Affairs Avigdor Liberman, among others.
“The arrival of the aircraft highlights the close defense cooperation between the US and Israel,” the Pentagon added.
Israel has ordered up to 50 F-35s. The aircraft, dubbed “Adir” or “Mighty,” would replace the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a 1970-era fighter jet which is the Israeli air force’s main weapon.
Two of the six Israeli pilots trained in the US would take over the control of the first pair of the F-35s on Tuesday.
In a statement on Sunday, Liberman thanked his American counterpart for the aircraft’s delivery, saying the move showed that he was “a true friend of Israel.”
Israel has shown strong enthusiasm for the planes, claiming that they would give it air superiority for the next 40 years.
However, recently leaked remarks by the Pentagon’s chief weapon tester Michael Gilmore cast new doubts on the fighter jet’s true abilities.
In a memo leaked to Bloomberg last week, Gilmore blasted what he called “misleading” reports about the F-35’s performance.
He also expressed dissatisfaction with the project’s slow progress, which has missed the deadline by 10 years while blowing out its budget by about 70 percent.
Often referred to as the world’s most expensive weapon, the nearly $1 trillion weapon has been dogged by software bugs and design issues.
The US Air Force grounded at least 15 of its F-35s in September, citing the discovery of faulty cooling lines.
A fuel system deficiency, faulty diagnostic systems, cracks in wing spars, lack of high-fidelity simulators for combat missions, and a pilot escape system that could kill ejecting pilots were some of the planes’ other problems mentioned in Gilmore’s earlier reports.
US President-elect Donald Trump also doesn’t seem to be satisfied with the aircraft, calling it “out of control” in terms of costs.