Israel will receive the MV-22 Osprey in the first foreign sale of the tilt-rotor aircraft as part of major arms deals with Mideast allies to guard against the threat from Iran, senior Defense Department officials said Friday.
The Ospreys were the “most significant” assets in the total arms package and were “for the first time being made available for Israel to purchase,” a senior DOD official said in a background briefing on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s upcoming Mideast trip.
Israel has not yet decided on how many of the troop-carry Ospreys, made by Bell Boeing of Fort Worth, Texas, will be purchased, DOD officials said. Bell and the Marine Corps have been negotiating with the United Arab Emirates for more than a year on Osprey sales, and the discussions were continuing, the officials said.
The civil war in Syria will be at the top of the agenda for Hagel’s trip beginning this weekend to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, the officials said.
One defense official said the arms package “doesn’t signal a change in policy toward Iran,” but a second official added that “the common threat in the region is clear.”
In addition to the Ospreys, Israel will also be getting advanced radars for Israeli fighter and attack aircraft, and anti-radiation missiles for targeting enemy radar sites.
The UAE will be getting 25 advanced F-16 fighters made by Lockheed Martin for $4.25 billion, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also agreed to buy additional standoff missiles and smart bomb s, the DOD officials said.
The total value of the sales to Israel and the regional allies will be about $10 billion. A Defense Department official called it “the most complex and carefully orchestrated arms packages in history.”
The sales grew out of President Obama’s directive to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year to look for ways to boost Israeli’s qualitative military edge in the region, the DOD officials said.
“We had been looking for ways to increase the capabilities of Israel in a significant way,” a Defense Department official said.
By boosting Israel’s capabilities, the sales to the Arab allies also became more politically viable in Congress, the officials said. Israel currently receives $3.1 billion in U.S. military aid, and another $300 million for missile defense, the Defense Department officials said.
The additional sales “will raise Israel’s military superiority to a level that it has never been rasied to before,” a defense official said.
The Ospreys, which provide longer-range and faster troop carrying and supply missions than conventional helicopters, have a checkered history.
More than 30 Marines were killed in testing, and the aircraft survived numerous attempts to cancel the program over cost overruns and systems’ failures.
The Marines have stressed that the Ospreys proved their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the aircraft earlier this year passed another hurdle when they were deployed for the first time to Japan over the protests of Okinawa residents.