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Israel's first F-35 stealth fighter planes set for landing

Israel receives more than $3 billion a year in US defence aid and says the F-35 allows it 'to maintain our aerial superiority in the region'
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, which is now being delieverd to Israel (AFP)

Israel's first F-35 stealth fighters arrive in the country on Monday, with officials touting them as ultra-high-tech planes that will allow it to maintain military dominance in the Middle East.

The first two of 50 F-35s to be purchased by Israel from US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin were due to arrive at Nevatim air base in the country's south.

In a sign of the importance being placed on the event, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter is to attend the arrival, along with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While other countries have ordered the planes, Israel  which receives more than $3 billion a year in US defence aid  says it will be the first with an operational F-35 squadron outside the United States.

It is the most expensive plane in history, and while the technology can seem dazzling, it has been criticised for cost overruns and earlier flaws.

Israel, however, says it will be key to its military's future. 

"The F-35 constitutes another element allowing us to maintain our aerial superiority in the region," Lieberman said in a statement.

"A powerful air force signals a powerful Israeli military, and a powerful Israeli military signals a strong Israel."

Israel has given its F-35s the name "Adir", which means "mighty" in Hebrew. Its first planes are expected to be operational within a year after delivery.

It will be receiving the F-35A model for standard takeoff and landings. The B and C models are for short takeoffs and aircraft carriers.

Israeli components will be integrated in the plane, which will be known as the F-35I.

Supersonic stealth

Among the aircraft's main features are advanced stealth capabilities to help pilots evade sophisticated missile systems.

The single-pilot jets can carry an array of weapons and travel at a supersonic speed of Mach 1.6, or around 1,200 miles per hour (1,900 kilometres per hour).

The ultra-high-tech helmets, at a cost of some $400,000 each, sound like something out of a science fiction film. The helmet includes its own operating system, with data that appears on the visor and is also shared elsewhere.

Thermal and night vision as well as 360-degree views are possible with cameras mounted on the plane.

In Israel, the planes, designed for multiple combat situations, will initially replace a group of ageing F-16s. They are seen as helping the country maintain its edge in the Middle East, particularly as its main enemy Iran seeks further influence in the region.

Israel is especially concerned over whether Iran will seek to develop nuclear weapons by violating the international accord it has signed with world powers.

Netanyahu strongly opposed the Iran nuclear deal, and said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that he wants to discuss ways of abandoning it with US president-elect Donald Trump.

"I think what options we have are much more than you think. Many more," Netanyahu said in the interview with CBS's 60 Minutes in the United States.

Netanyahu gave no details on what he will be proposing when he meets with Trump, but minimised the downside of Washington backing out of an accord that includes other world powers, including its European allies.

"There are ways, various ways of undoing it," he said. "I have about five things in my mind."

Israel is buying its first 33 F-35s at an average price of about $110 million (103.5 million euros) each.

Translation: המשיח is Hebrew for Messiah

Among the earlier flaws uncovered was one where pilots who weighed less than 136 pounds (62 kilos) risked being killed by its ejection system.

There have also been software bugs and technical glitches, though Lockheed Martin says such issues have been overcome.

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