Israel has gone to the front of the Bell Boeing production line for the delivery within two years of six V-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys specially modified for the Israeli Defense Forces, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.
Under the arrangement for the first foreign sale of the Ospreys, the Marine Corps has agreed to let Israel jump the line and take delivery of the next batch of tilt-rotors from the Corps, Hagel said.
"I've directed the Marine Corps to make sure this order is expedited [to show that] the Israeli-American defense relationship is stronger than ever," Hagel said in a speech to the centennial meeting of the Anti-Defamation League in New York.
"To ensure that Israel receives the V-22s as soon as possible, the Marine Corps is moving Israel to the top of the production line," defense officials said in a statement ahead of Hagel's announcement. "Under this approach, Israel will begin taking delivery of their Ospreys, which will be modified to meet specific requirements of the IDF, in roughly two years."
The complicated financial arrangements for the sale to Israel of Ospreys,anti-radiation missiles, advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets, and KC-135 refueling aircraft was announced in Tel Aviv last April by Hagel.
The arms package for Israel was part of an overall $10 billion regional deal in which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would get advanced F-16 fighters, standoff missiles and smart bombs, Hagel 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.
However, the Marine Corps has stressed that the Ospreys proved their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the aircraft last year passed another hurdle when they were deployed for the first time to Japan over the protests of Okinawa residents.
The Osprey deal culminated a long courtship of Israel by the Marine Corps and Bell Boeing. Going back to early 2011, Israeli Air Force pilots were brought to the Marine air base in New River, N.C., to train on simulators and take test flights at the controls of the aircraft, said Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh, a Marine spokesman.
"No other (foreign) militaries have done that" or been afforded the opportunity, Ulsh said.
Last month, the head of Boeing's rotorcraft division told Reuters that talks with Japan on the sale of Ospreys had accelerated since the deployment of the tilt-rotors to Okinawa last year.
"[Japanese defense officials have] started to see the capabilities because of the U.S. presence over there. They're starting to resonate with the platform itself," said Leanne Caret, vice president and general manager for vertical lift in Boeing's defense division.
The U.S. has also provided briefings on the Osprey to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Singapore and Australia.