SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 12 (UPI) -- The first two F-35 Lightning II aircraft were delivered to Israel, making it the only Middle Eastern country to own a fifth-generation fighter.
The U.S. Air Force aided in the delivery by providing a KC-135 tanker to refuel the new planes. Military officials who attended the delivery say the event highlights the important relationship between the United States and its closest ally in the Middle East.
"It is an honor to help ensure the delivery of F-35s to a valued ally," Gen. Carlton Everhart said in a press release. "Aerial refueling missions enable global reach for the United States and partner nations. Air Mobility Command Airmen and aircraft enable global effects and create bridges of support for partner nations on a daily basis."
According to the Air Force, Israeli ownership of F-35 fighter aircraft bolsters U.S. security interests. Sharing the same aircraft with partner nations allows allies to fly and fight in the same airframe with common tactics, equipment, and capabilities, the branch adds.
Israel was the first nation to sign a foreign military sales agreement with the United States to procure the F-35. The country intends to use the new planes to replace its aging fleet of F-15s and F-16s.
The country received its first two F-35s on the same day the U.S.-based program was thrown into doubt when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted the program was "out of control", suggesting the incoming administration may be eyeing cuts.