Israel’s first shipment of F-35 fighter jets from the United States in December will come with a bonus – it will be the only country allowed to modify parts of the plane, Wired reported  Tuesday.
The United States imposes strict requirements on the military hardware it sells to foreign countries, even to allies. Small modifications have to be approved by the Pentagon. The F-35 Lightning II Joint Striker Fighter, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, even requires that only U.S.-run facilities conduct repairs.
But Israel has been granted major exceptions: It will likely be allowed to install its own “command and control” software and will almost certainly be permitted to service the planes itself. The exact terms are currently being negotiated.
Israel has been given this leeway because of its past experience modifying American F-15s and F-16s to integrate the jets with their own systems. Israel has developed advanced communications and sensor hardware that the United States has integrated into its own aircraft.
The Pentagon’s decision to grant Israel greater autonomy with the F-35 is that Israel is bordered by enemies and can’t afford to ship planes elsewhere for repairs and maintenance. As Wired observed, “When you might go to war at any moment, the argument goes, you can’t have your best hardware go out of service for weeks at a time for checkouts that can take just a few days on your own turf.”
In addition to the software changes, Israel is expected to add a precision missile system and extra fuel tanks, which will extend the planes’ range by 40 percent.
The U.S. is currently working with Israel to ensure that the Israeli systems will interact properly with the F-35’s native systems, and that the Nevatim airbase where the planes are to be serviced is properly secured.
Israel Aircraft Industries signed  a multi-billion dollar deal with Lockheed Martin in 2013 to produce the wings for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Striker Fighter. The contract was extended  earlier this year.
[Photo: Heath Cajandig / Flickr ]