Israel is moving closer to buying F-35 joint strike fighters to add to its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 and F-15 fighter jets.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly endorsed a plan Sunday to buy 20 of the next-generation combat jets from Lockheed Martin, although formal Israeli government approval won't come until September.
Few details of the plan were available Monday. For several years, Israel has discussed buying up to 75 of the jets with the U.S. government, but Pentagon officials have balked at the Israeli military's desire for the technical information needed to modify the jets to carry some of their own weapons-targeting and surveillance systems.
Various reports put the price Israel would pay at $96 million per aircraft, $2.75 billion for all 20 planes or up to $4 billion for a complete package. The funds would come from U.S. taxpayers as part of the annual $3 billion in military aid to Israel. All three figures could be accurate depending on the timing and what is covered.
Lockheed Martin officials declined to comment on when the planes might be ordered, produced and delivered. In a statement, the company said it "is aware that the government of Israel is evaluating the F-35 and we believe the F-35's mission flexibility and advanced capabilities align well with their national security needs. However, it is not appropriate for us to comment on their aircraft evaluation and selection process."
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