MANAMA - U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin hopes to sign an agreement with Israel on its F-35 fighter jet by the end of the year, and targets 75 to 100 jets for the deal, an executive said on Friday.
Israel is extremely interested and we very much hope that we will make a deal with Israel for F-35s this year, Patrick Dewar, a corporate vice president at Lockheed Martin told Reuters at the Bahrain air show.
When we talk about Israel, somewhere between 75 and 100 jets, he said, when asked to estimate the size of the market for F-35s.
Dewar also said he expected more countries in the region to express interest for the plane that is designed to replace F-16s and F-18s fighter jets.
I think very shortly after that there are going to be a series of countries here in the Gulf region that will also publicly state their interest in F-35s and the United States government will start talking to them about it, he said.
He said the company had been approached by several states in the region, declining to provide details.
The United States co-developed the F-35 with eight foreign partners -- Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin are eager to wrap up an F-35 deal with Israel, which is tentatively planning to buy an initial 25 F-35s in fiscal 2012 with an option for 50 more.
The single-engine aircraft, designed to avoid detection by radar, could play a role in any Israeli effort to knock out what it regards as the threat to its existence posed by Iran's nuclear program.
In November, a senior U.S.. defence official said the United States had offered to add Israeli systems and munitions to the new jet and deliver it to Israel by 2015, provided a deal was sealed in coming months.
Lockheed would tie in Israeli-built command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems for a unique version of the jet for sale to Israel, Jon Schreiber, a senior Pentagon program official, told Reuters.
On the other hand, the United States has indicated it does not plan for now to put an Israeli electronic warfare system aboard the F-35, which is in early stages of production.
Dropping plans for incorporating electronic warfare systems would be a significant switch for Israel, which bought modified U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s to incorporate such know-how.
(Reporting by Frederik Richter; Editing by Andrew Callus