The Israeli cabinet looked at Iran and its terrorist agents in Syria and Lebanon, and on February 7, approved an Israeli Air Force application for US military finance and loans to fund approximately US $ 9 billion worth of US military aircraft and weapons. To use dollars. Jerusalem’s decision initiates a process that will culminate in the Air Force’s takeover of new American warplanes, air tankers, and helicopters. These purchases would help meet Israel’s important military requirements and support efforts to maintain its qualitative military advantage over potential regional adversaries.
Under the approved plan, Israel will leverage both existing funding mechanisms and new loans. The former will come from annual foreign military funding in Washington, which was provided under a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Israel.
The decision was delayed due to disagreements as to whether it would be advisable to finance part of the purchases with loans. The Israeli Treasury Department reportedly rejected the plan. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, backed the decision because of the growing threat from Iran and its terrorist proxies.
However, the latest decision does not provide for a permit for certain aircraft or quantities of aircraft. The move is just the first step in the Israeli acquisition process. The IAF will now make its recommendations on certain fighters, air tankers and helicopters.
When it comes to fighters, Israel is considering both the F-35 and F-15EX. Like the US Air Force, the Israeli Air Force sees value in mixing the two aircraft’s complementary capabilities. Israel bought two squadrons of F-35s and wants more. This is because the F-35 is the world’s most advanced multi-purpose fighter, combining exceptional sensor and network capabilities with advanced technologies that make detection difficult.
The Air Force has reportedly used its variant F-35I Adir to hit Iranian targets in Syria and flown them over Lebanon and other areas. Israel is fighting the Iranian efforts to both establish another front against Israel in Syria and to route precision-guided ammunition parts and technology through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. As Iran acquires more advanced anti-aircraft capabilities and potentially pushes its nuclear program further, the F-35’s state-of-the-art capabilities become even more important.
Despite the exceptional capabilities of the F-35, Israel is trying to improve the capabilities of its F-15 fleet. The Air Force is interested in acquiring an Israeli version of the F-15EX – called the F-15IA – and upgrading some of their older F-15Is. Taking into account maintenance and servicing costs, as well as other factors, the F-15 aircraft costs less per flight hour than the F-35 aircraft.
The F-15EX also has a much larger capacity for transporting ammunition. The F-15EX can carry approximately 30,000 pounds of weapons while the F-35 can carry 5,000 pounds internally and has a total payload of up to 18,000 pounds when using external stations.
The F-35 can carry four to six missiles internally without increasing the aircraft’s radar signature, and has additional carrying capacity when camouflage is not required. For comparison: the F-15EX can carry up to 12 external missiles. In addition, compared to the F-35, Israel expects more leeway to adapt the software and hardware of the F-15EX to the special needs of Jerusalem. This could include Israel’s own electronic warfare, communications, missile and avionics packages.
The complementary capabilities and features of the F-35 and F-15EX make it very likely that Israel will advance plans to acquire a squadron of each aircraft, starting with the F-35. The aim is to improve the Air Force’s capabilities and capacities.
When it comes to aerial refuelers, Israel is currently using modified and obsolete Boeing 707s. Accordingly, the Air Force sees an urgent need to purchase approximately six KC-46s. This purchase would provide additional tank capacity and capacity, and expand the range of air force fighters to address threats farther away from Israel. In conflicts closer to home, the tankers would increase the time air force fighters can loiter over potential targets.
The Air Force is also looking to replace its aging helicopter fleet. The service wants the new helicopter to provide traditional vertical lifting capabilities by agile maneuvering conventional ground forces and equipment in conflict areas while supporting special forces and retrieving crashed pilots.
The Boeing CH-47F and the Sikorsky CH-53K are leading candidates. The Boeing option offers proven features and a lower purchase price. However, Sikorsky’s option would add three engines per helicopter to improve safety, performance, and external lift capability. However, the benefits of the CH-53K would come at the expense of fewer helicopters and likely higher maintenance costs.
Depending on a number of factors, the Air Force may also seek to procure the V-22 Osprey to increase the range and speed of Israel’s vertical lifting capabilities for special missions.
Regardless of Jerusalem’s final decisions, these aircraft acquisitions will bolster American military innovation and industrial base, improve the interoperability of the U.S. and Israeli forces, and strengthen Israel’s edge over potential regional adversaries.
With the growing threat from Iran and the extended lead times for these aircraft, there is no time to lose.
Bradley Bowman is the executive director of the Center for Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a national security advisor in the Senate and as a helicopter pilot with the US Army. Retired Brig. General Jacob Nagel is visiting professor at the FDD and visiting professor at the Technion faculty for aerospace engineering. Previously, he served in the Israel Defense Forces and as National Security Advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister and Chief of the National Security Council.