The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program recently received another piece of good news as manufacturer Lockheed Martin began assembly of Israel’s version of the next-generation aircraft.
Work on the “Adir” (Hebrew for “mighty one”) began last week at Lockheed’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, the defense giant said in a statement. The company hopes to deliver the fighter, dubbed AS-1, to the Israeli Air Force later this calendar year.
Construction of the jet marks another major step forward for the F-35 effort, which has cost the Defense Department around $400 billion to develop, making it the costliest weapon in U.S. history.
Partners for the program include the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, Denmark and Norway. The United Kingdom late last year released a defense strategy document that called for the nation to boost the number of F-35 jets it intends to buy.
Assembly of Israel’s conventional takeoff and landing variant is another bit of good news for the F-35, which has become synonymous with cost overruns and technical glitches.
Here at home, the fiscal year 2016 omnibus spending bill approved by Congress set aside $12.3 billion for the JSF program, about $1.3 billion more than President Obama’s original request, so that the U.S. could purchase a total of 68 jets in 2016.
It’s not all clear skies for the F-35 effort, though. The fate of the program in Canada remains up in the air as the new government weighs pulling out of the international consortium to pursue a cheaper alternative. The topic will no doubt be discussed when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Washington in March.
In all, Jerusalem hopes to buy 33 JSFs to replace its aging F-15 and F-16 fleets.
Lockheed met its F-35 production goal for 2015 when it delivered 45 jets to the U.S. military and international partners.