“Despite what the various rumors and publications say, the F-35s will reach a range of over 600 miles,” Tom Burbage, executive vice-president of Lockheed Martin and general manager of the JSF Program, told IsraelDefense in a meeting at the Paris air show.
Burbage was referring to the different publications about the plane, which Israel was supposed to start receiving at the beginning of 2015.
As for the claim that the prototype for the plane failed in the flight tests to reach the target range set by the program, 600 miles, the program manager said, “There were rumors stemming from the fact that in one of the tests the plane reached a range of 594 miles. Since then some additional flights have been done, and in every one of them the plane surpassed the target range, even substantially.”
As for the publications about delays in the plane’s development and a possible delay of several years in its supply, Burbage said that according to the present time schedule, which is coordinated with the Israeli air force, Israeli pilots will begin training flights on the new plane in 2016, and the first planes will be supplied “at the end of 2016 or in 2017.”
Moreover, says the program manager, Lockheed Martin is working in full coordination with the Israeli air force (the contract for procurement of the planes was signed between the governments). He adds that at this stage it is already agreed that Israel will integrate communication systems into the planes that are designed for the Israeli air force, along with some other systems.
The deal was signed in conjunction with the U.S. air force as a deal between governments, with Israel ordering 20 F-35s at a cost of $2.7 billion. This deal made the Israeli air force the first customer outside of the United States to receive the fifth-generation stealth planes.
What makes the F-35 unique and gives it the status of a “fifth-generation” plane is a low radar signature that is achieved through a special integration of materials, and the fact that it can also carry its weapons in the body of the plane and not only under the wings. Israel joined the F-35 program in 2003 after paying $20 million, which allowed it to become a Security Cooperation Participant and to survey the plans for the plane, though without having a say in its development or configuration. Nevertheless, as the program manager says, Lockheed Martin has already responded to several Israeli requests for changes in the plane’s components.