Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Israel to buy $15.2 billion in Lockheed fighters

By Andrea Shalal-Esa Swiss Info Services WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Tuesday said it approved the sale to Israel of 25 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft built by Lockheed Martin and an option for 50 more in coming years -- a deal valued at up to $15.2 billion (8.4 billion pounds). The Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which oversees major arms sales, said the deal is vital to U.S. national security interests to assist Israel as it develops and maintains "a strong and ready self-defence capability." Israel needs the aircraft to enhance its air-to-air and air-to-ground defence, the agency said. The DSCA notified Congress about the proposed arms sale before lawmakers head back to their districts for the November election. Lawmakers now have 30 days to block the sales, but such action is rare, since the agreements are usually carefully vetted beforehand. The Pentagon agency said Israel wants to buy an initial 25 F-35s in the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) configuration, with an option to buy an additional 50 F-35 CTOL or Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft. All aircraft would be equipped with either the F-135 engines built by Pratt and Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, or the F-136 engine being developed by General Electric Co and Britain's Rolls-Royce Plc. Lockheed Martin said it welcomes the decision. "As the first potential foreign military sale of the F-35, this would be an important first step in expanding interest in the Joint Strike Fighter beyond the U.S. government and eight international F-35 partner nations," said Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky. Earlier this month, the Pentagon approved up to $330 million in three separate arms deals for Israel. Top Israeli and U.S. government officials met in Washington this month for the most senior bilateral high technology dialogue ever between the two allies. Discussions focussed in part on ensuring that sensitive technologies were not passed to third parties. Separately on Tuesday, the Pentagon approved Brazil's request to buy up to $525 million worth of 15 United Technologies Black Hawk helicopters and 30 General Electric engines.

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