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'Fog' delays arrival in Israel of first F-35 fighters

AFP logoAFP 12/12/2016 by Mike Smith

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

Israel is buying its first 33 F-35s -- at an average price of about $110 million (103.5 million euros) for each warplane
© Provided by AFP

The arrival of Israel's first F-35 stealth fighters, the world's most expensive plane, was in doubt Monday because of bad weather, officials said.

The first two of 50 F-35s -- purchased from US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin at around $110 million (103.5 million euros) each -- were due to arrive from northern Italy at 2 pm local time (12 GMT) but unable to take off due to fog.

"In accordance with American safety regulations, the Adir takeoff is delayed," a military official said from a stage at the landing site in southern Israel, using the word meaning "mighty" in Hebrew for the plane.

With much of the world's media in attendance, he said they would reassess at 16.30 pm local time (14:30 GMT).

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.

The planes have been hailed as a major moment for Israel, allowing it to maintain military dominance in the Middle East.

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter was due to attend the landing along with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jack Crisler, a Lockheed Martin vice president, said it was impossible to say if the landing would still take place on Monday.

Asked why the planes couldn't take off in bad weather, he said: "It can.

"It does every day. But there's just local rules in Italy that say you have to be able to visually see a certain distance before they will let you take off," he told AFP.

"It's an all-weather platform -- it's got the most powerful radar flying in an airplane today, so it's very capable of flying in weather."

While the F-35 also has its critics in Israel because of the hefty price, US president-elect Donald Trump said in a tweet on Monday that the cost was "out of control".

"Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th," when he takes office, Trump tweeted.

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