Tel Aviv, Israel | AFP | Israel showed off its new F-35 stealth fighter jets recently delivered from the United States on Tuesday as part of an air show marking its annual Independence Day celebrations.
Three of Israel’s five stealth fighters took to the skies along the Mediterranean coast off Tel Aviv as thousands of people gathered at the waterfront to watch.
They also flew over other cities including Jerusalem.
The F-35s, made by US-based Lockheed Martin, were the highlight of the show, which marked 69 years of Israeli independence.
The event also included aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16 jets, Sikorsky CH-53 Stallion helicopters, a KC-135 Stratotanker Boeing 707, and the Hawker-Beechcraft T-6 Texan II planes.
Israel has received the initial five F-35s since December with the aim of allowing it to maintain its military superiority in the turbulent Middle East, particularly regarding its arch-foe Iran.
It plans to purchase a total of 50 F-35s. Its first jets are to be operational this year.
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 outside the United States with an operational F-35 squadron.
Israel is buying its first 33 F-35s at an average price of about $110 million (103.5 million euros) each — and the price tag has been criticised both in Israel and elsewhere.
The first two F-35s delivered to Israel in December landed around six hours late after being delayed by bad weather in Italy, believed to be fog.
A Lockheed official said then the holdup was caused by Italian air safety regulations, rather than any limitation of the planes, but this did not stop jibes.
“Here’s hoping we only go to war on sunny days…” one Israeli joked on Twitter.
Among its 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 pilot’s ultra-high-tech helmet, at a cost of about $400,000 each, 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 February, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon said the next batch of F-35s, the most expensive planes in history, will be produced at a reduced cost.
They announced $728 million in savings after President Donald Trump publicly upbraided Lockheed over “out of control” costs, although most of the savings were already planned ahead of his involvement, during a months-long contract negotiation.