Following Israeli requests for advanced defense equipment, the U.S. has agreed “an unprecedented release of capabilities,” according to a senior Pentagon official. Israel will receive Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotors; KC-135 tankers; AESA radar retrofits for its F-15 and F-16 fighters; and anti-radiation missiles. The new approvals were made public during U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to Israel and other countries in the Middle East this week.
Despite budget cutbacks elsewhere, the Pentagon has not reduced defense assistance to Israel. It has requested $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for the Jewish state in Fiscal Year 2014, the largest-ever annual amount. That sum does not include the $221 million that the U.S. will be contributing to the Iron Dome missile defence system, adding to $460 million provided in earlier years.
Israel will be the first foreign country to acquire V-22s. “The Bell-Boeing team is pleased that the V-22 Osprey will be a critical part of Israel’s future force structure. With its unique combination of speed, range, payload and vertical lift, the V-22 continues to garner interest from a number of international militaries,” said the company.
The senior Pentagon official said that the Israelis could deploy the aircraft in a variety of roles, including maritime operations and search-and-rescue. He omitted to mention that the V-22 could also be used to mount commando-type raids on Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.
Israel has often threatened to strike such sites, and the U.S. decision to boost the Israeli Air Force tanker fleet with KC-135s adds to the credibility of these threats. Israel has built its own fleet of about seven KC-707 tankers, converted from retired airliners by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). More recently, IAI has also converted at least one Boeing 767 to a multi-mission tanker-transport configuration (MMTT).