July 22, 2006

In News

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) – Israel’s latest military operations reflect a fighting machine bolstered by U.S. weaponry, jet fuel and technology transfers — and more is on its way.

From 1971 through 2005, U.S. aid to Israel has averaged more than $2 billion a year, two-thirds of which has been military assistance, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

U.S. military grants to Israel totaled $2.28 billion in fiscal 2006 ending Sept. 30, according to a new tally in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, a nonpartisan magazine.

The U.S.-supplied arsenal includes F-16 Falcon fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Boeing Co. (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research)-built F-15 Eagle fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
Deliveries of Israel’s latest order of 102 F-16Is — a special variant built at a reported cost of $4.2 billion — are to be completed by the end of 2008.
The F-16I, dubbed “Soufa” or “Storm” in Hebrew, features modern cockpit displays with moving maps, “smart” weapons compatibility and updated navigation and targeting systems.

Such warplanes have been battering targets in Lebanon in an eight-day-old siege aimed at degrading the capabilities of Hizbollah fighters raining rockets on Israel.

The Pentagon notified Congress on Friday that it planned to sell Israel JP-8 aviation fuel valued at up to $210 million to help its aircraft “keep peace and security in the region.”

Israel sought the fuel about six months ago as part of a continuing purchase program, a knowledgeable Pentagon official said.

The last time an Israeli jet fuel request triggered a congressional notification was in September 2004. The threshold for such notice in Israel’s case is $50 million. Israel’s previous, congressionally notified, request sought fuel worth up to $102 million if all options were exercised.

Israel also may be in the market for a batch of 25 F-15I Ra’am fighters to add to a first squadron delivered in 1998, said Tom Baranauskas of Forecast International, a Newton, Connecticut, aerospace and defense market consultancy.

The F-15Is would likely be Israel’s choice for any strikes it might carry out on Iranian facilities suspected of harboring nuclear capabilities, he said.

Israel is now testing Stryker eight-wheeled combat vehicles built by General Dynamics Corp. (GD.N: Quote, Profile, Research), the U.S. Army’s first such new addition since the Abrams tank in the 1980s, and mulling the Littoral Combat Ship, an industry source said.

The ship, rival versions of which are built by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, is designed to meet such threats as speedboats that could be turned into suicide weapons.

Also being marketed to Israel is a Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC.N: Quote, Profile, Research) chemical laser designed to protect high-value targets from rockets, mortars and other incoming threats.

Dubbed Skyguard, it grew from the Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL, a joint U.S.-Israeli project in which the U.S. Army sunk $139 million before opting for more mobile systems.