The Details Behind Israel’s Purchase of Lockheed’s “Samson” Airlifter

by Marsha B. Cohen

Two celebrations brought Lockheed Martin’s CEO, Marilyn A. Hewson, to Israel on April 9.

Hewson officially opened Lockheed Martin’s office in Beersheba, the closest major city to where IDF technical units are being consolidated at new bases in the Negev Desert, which will be supporting the defense contractor’s “growing presence” in Israel. “By locating our new office in the capital of the Negev we are well positioned to work closely with our Israeli partners and stand ready to: accelerate project execution, reduce program risk and share our technical expertise by training and developing in-country talent,” Hewson said in her speech.

Then was the arrival of the first C-130J Super Hercules airlifter at Nevatim Air Base in Israel. The state of the art Super Hercules, fitted with “Israeli-specific, post-production modifications,” has been dubbed Shimshon (Samson) by the Israel Defense Forces, about which Hewson waxed rhapsodic:

This aircraft is worthy of its given name, Shimshon…[sic] a leader whose power was thought to be as mighty as the sun. Shimshon used his power to combat the enemies of Israel and perform heroic feats.In the same way, this aircraft will support the defense of Israel and the men and women who are the heroes of the Israeli Defense Force.

(Apparently Ms. Hewson is unaware that the biblical Samson/Shimshon (Judges 13:1-17:31), for all his strength, actually met a rather unenviable end — in Gaza — using his final surge strength to destroy himself along with the enemy. Yet the Philistines lived to fight another day and were still around a hundred years later.)

Much of the publicity heralding the Samson’s arrival emphasized the air transporter’s capabilities in carrying out humanitarian missions. According to Lockheed’s product description, “This rugged aircraft is regularly sent on missions in the harshest environments, and is often seen as the first aircraft ‘in,’ touching down on austere landing strips before any other transport to provide humanitarian relief after natural disasters.” Reuters notes that “In non-combat, but harsh, environments, C-130Js are often the first to carry out missions such as search and rescue, aerial firefighting in the United States and delivering relief supplies after earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis around the world.” A Haaretz article anticipating the Samson’s arrival said that earlier versions of the Hercules aircraft had been used in 1976 to rescue hijacked Air France passengers being held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda and to transport Ethiopian Jews to Israel as part of Operation Solomon in 1991.

The Israeli Air Force website, however, describes the C-130J Hercules as “a tactical transport plane that is mostly used in joint missions with ground forces: supply missions, equipment transfer, airdropping combat forces and special missions.” The long version of the Super Hercules C-130J can carry 92 paratroopers and their equipment, which exceeds the 64 paratroopers the short version can accommodate. Comments by Israeli defense officials quoted in the Times of Israel suggest that Israel isn’t purchasing “Samson” for humanitarian intervention. The IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who also attended the arrival ceremony, declared that the C-130J, which can fly close to the ground and land and take-off on primitive airstrips, was of “decisive importance” and would allow Israel to execute “more complex missions, under any conditions, deeper [within enemy territory], faster and more clandestinely.” IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said that the “diversity of capabilities that the plane represents borders on the imaginary” [sic].

Israel orders its C-130Js, including the Super Hercules, through a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) contract with the US government. Israel’s annual Foreign Military Funding grant from the US signed in 2007 for a ten year period amounts to $3.1 billion to Israel annually (minus about $155 million due to the US government-mandated sequester). Considering that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu budgeted $2.89 billion for an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for 2013 and again for 2014, that doesn’t go very far, even when assuming that the Samson is being purchased with an eye toward war with Iran.

With Lockheed’s active involvement, Israel has been able to utilize a scheme called a deferred payment plan (DPP), in combination with a Pentagon process known as cash-flow financing, to make current purchases with deferred debt on favorable terms, to be paid with the FMS grants it is scheduled to receive in future years. Israel used this method to fund Pentagon-administered Foreign Military Sale purchases of Lockheed F-16I and F-35I fighters. Through this creative means of financing, Israel has already earmarked nearly all Foreign Military Funding through 2018 for F-35 fighter jets, heavy troop carriers, airlifters and other equipment.

Now Israel wants to buy — and the Pentagon wants to sell — half a dozen V-22 Ospreys, originally intended for the US Marine Corps serving in Afghanistan. What to do?

On March 20, during a visit to Israel, two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN), told Reuters that, in spite of belt-tightening in Washington, the US will  continue providing Israel with military assistance after its current Foreign Military Financing package of $3.1 billion a year expires in 2017. Ayotte said that talks concerning the 2018-2028 package were already underway. Lockheed Martin is rated a “heavy hitter” among campaign donors by the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website. Thus far in the 2014 election cycle, Lockheed has contributed over $1.6 million to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, about two thirds going to Republicans and the rest to Democrats.

Ten days later, Defense News reported that Israel had agreed to take on more than $2 billion in commercial debt for near-term buys of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and other Pentagon-approved weaponry, trusting that the US will provide a 2018-2028 FMF package to foot the bill. Under a US-approved DPP, Israel would pay only interest and fees over the course of the current agreement set to expire in September 2018. The principal of the debt incurred to purchase the Ospreys would be covered by a new Obama-pledged package that would extend annual foreign military financing (FMF) aid through 2028. Lockheed loves the idea, even if the first purchase goes to a competitor. Why? Once the new means of proactive financing kicks in — Israel borrowing against an aid package it hasn’t even received yet, which, following approval, won’t go into effect for five years — Lockheed can expect benefits as well. According to Defense News, “Lockheed is expected to play a pivotal role in the new DPP scheme, which government and industry sources here say will facilitate follow-on procurement of Israel’s second squadron of F-35Is.”

Photo: Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon inspects the IAF’s newest recruit, the Samson Super Hercules. Credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Office

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Marsha B. Cohen

Marsha B. Cohen is an analyst specializing in Israeli-Iranian relations and US foreign policy towards Iran and Israel. Her articles have been published by PBS/Frontline's Tehran Bureau. IPS, Alternet, Payvand and Global Dialogue. She earned her PhD in International Relations from Florida International University, and her BA in Political Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

SHOW 11 COMMENTS

11 Comments

  1. Jon says:

    “This aircraft with the post production modifications for Israel will be a great asset for many types of operations. Militarily its capabilities are suited to the geographical surroundings of unfriendlies.”

    No doubt, but try to articulate why it is that we are doing this, Jon. So that it will be easier for Israel to attack Iran? And that, despite the fact that it is unnecessary and contrary to American interests for her to do so? Why not just say up front that American and European and international institutional interests don’t matter to you?

    And then there is the fact that when we give away our most advanced aircraft to Israel we are giving her our most advanced technology which she has a history of absorbing and selling on the international arms market without so much as a fare thee well. Come on, tell us, would you apply any limits to this? If so, can you articulate them for us.

  2. Great reporting Marsha Cohen.With the convoluted mode of payment, can you calculate for us exactly how much of this is going to be paid for by US tax payers? It seems as far as this is concerned, their communiques are meant more to mystify than to inform.
    Also Lockheed Martin, being one of the top 4 in the military-industrial complex, must be privy to many top secret US weapons systems. Is there not a great probability now that Ms Hewson will gladly pass on those secrets in view of her obvious penchant for Israel.

  3. Obviously I am looking at this sale as a good thing for Israels defensive posture. In the past 65 yrs. IIRC they’ve been the ones threatened, attacked and bombarded regularly No point in arguing with supposition when facts are ignored.

  4. From Professor Jahanpour:

    “What Israel needs is not more weapons or more generals. She needs more farsighted politicians and peacemakers. Israel can either move to the point that she can bring down her neighbors with herself, or learn to live in peace with her neighbors. Any true friend of Israel should advise her to choose the second option.”

    With the exception, perhaps, of Justice Minister Livni, Israel’s potential statesmen seem not to be in government. Does one blame the electorate, befogged by Zionist ideology rather than attentive to their own national interests? Someone in the Legislature called for a vote of confidence in the Netanyahu administration. Perhaps they are awakening. Let us hear from Ms. Livni.

  5. Jon says:

    “Obviously I am looking at this sale as a good thing for Israels defensive posture.”

    Jon, it is not a sale. It’s a disguised gift .Read Marsha Cohen’s article more carefully. She believes that the new aircraft mean most to Israel offensively. She is getting a large number of two of the latest stealth fighter-bombers and these giant STOL (short landing and takeoff) transports which can be used on dirt anywhere in the region, even in Iran herself. She already has something like 300 F-16s, all gifts. It looks to me as though Ms. Cohen is correct and Israel is preparing to attack Iran for which the funding is already set aside.

    ” In the past 65 yrs. IIRC they’ve been the ones threatened’, attacked and bombarded regularly No point in arguing with supposition when facts are ignored.”

    With all due respect you don’t recall correctly. For those 65 years (and more) the Palestinians have been living in refugee camps in foreign countries or under military and police occupation/siege. Their most effective counterattacks have been a few suicide bombings which were squelched years ago. The relevant death tolls are very disproportionate. I really believe that you should stop the propaganda barrage on the American people.

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