Israel is re-examining its five-year military modernization plan to make the best use of the $3.1 billion in U.S. military aid it receives each year, in light of the threat posed by Iran and the Obama administration’s offer to provide additional advanced weaponry.
According to two people familiar with the matter, the two countries are discussing how Israel could utilize more American military technology, including V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as they negotiate continued U.S. military financing after the current package ends in 2018. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
Unlike most recipients of U.S. military aid, Israel can order equipment before it receives its annual grants and therefore has committed funds for future years to current programs, said a U.S. official. Israel is reviewing those financial commitments, said the official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because talks between the two countries are still under way.
Among other things, the U.S. is proposing that Israel shouldn’t use American aid to maintain its fleet of aging KC-707 aerial refueling tankers because the Pentagon is buying new Boeing Co. KC-46 tankers and plans to offer its current KC-135 models to Israel, the U.S. official said.
Israel has seven KC-707 tankers made by Chicago-based Boeing and two propeller-driven KC-130Hs made by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, according to the 2013 edition of The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
The value of the new arms package to Israel will depend on how many V-22 planes Israel wants and what changes in configuration and weapons the Israel Defense Forces want in their aircraft, according to the U.S. official. The planes are made by Boeing and Providence, Rhode Island-based Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter unit.
The U.S.-Israel discussions on the new weapons are likely to be completed in the next two months, after which Congress will be officially notified, the U.S. official said.
The Obama administration last month announced an arms package to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth as much as $10 billion. The proposed sales includes air defense radars, refueling planes and precision anti-radar missiles, U.S. officials said at the time. The U.A.E. plans to buy 26 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets in addition to the 80 it’s already buying.
The move to beef up the capabilities of Middle East allies began with President Barack Obama asking then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to examine ways to boost Israel’s military edge in light of potential threats in the region, three U.S. defense officials told reporters at a Pentagon briefing in April.
The U.S. and Israel suspect that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. They also are concerned the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad may use its chemical and biological weapons; give them to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist organization; or lose control of them to Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaeda.
The U.S. and Israel also are discussing replacing the mechanically steered radars on Israel’s fleet of F-16 jets with electronic versions, the U.S. official said.
The Active Electronically Scanned Array radar for F-16s made by Northrop Grumman Corp. of Falls Church, Virginia, is capable of tracking multiple targets at once, allowing pilots to perform air-to-air as well as air-to-ground missions, according to Northrop’s website. The electronic radar offers a two-fold increase in reliability over mechanical versions, according to Northrop.
The size of the new arms package will also be determined by how many F-16s Israel decides to upgrade, the U.S. official said. Replacing mechanical radars with electronic ones would provide Israel additional capability while it waits to get Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the official said.
Israel has a fleet of 320 F-16s of various models, according to The Military Balance report.
Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, and has received about $118 billion since its founding, according to an April report by the Congressional Research Service. In 2007, President George W. Bush’s administration negotiated a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package that ends in fiscal year 2018.
The Obama administration also has funded Israel’s Iron Dome system, designed to shoot down short-range rockets.
In its 2014 budget request, the Pentagon sought $220 million to buy additional Iron Dome batteries for Israel. If approved by Congress, that spending would be in addition to the $486 million the U.S. has added for the system in recent years.