Israel Seeks New U.S. Military Aircraft

 - December 19, 2019, 12:51 PM
More F-35I Adir fighters are top of Israel’s shopping list. The Israel Air Force was the first service to use the F-35 in combat. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Emboldened by strengthened U.S. support under the Trump presidency, Israel is making plans to acquire a major package of U.S. defense equipment, confident that aid and weapons will continue to flow despite the lack of progress in solving the ongoing Palestinian problem.

Replacing the Israel Air Force’s dwindling fleet of aging Boeing KC-707 Reem tankers (about seven of which remain in service) is a particular priority, and reports suggest that the IAF will request early delivery of two Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tankers, taking over two U.S. Air Force production slots.

This is perhaps surprising in view of the fact that the Bedek Aircraft Division of Israel Aerospace Industries has already produced its own tanker conversion of the Boeing 767, known as the Boeing 767 MMTT (Multi-Mission Tanker Transport). One was delivered to the Colombian Air Force in 2010, configured as a two-point probe-and-drogue tanker, and three similarly configured tankers have been ordered by the Brazilian air force. Bedek has also developed a variant of the MMTT equipped with a fly-by-wire boom refueling system, with a remote aerial refueling operator station and day/night viewing systems.

In June 2019, the Israel defense ministry issued an official request for information for the Boeing F-15X, and a price and availability (P&A) request for the Lockheed Martin F-35I. Israel already has 50 F-35Is on order and has had a long-standing intention to buy 25 more, but recent reports suggest that the Israel Air Force intends to buy 75 additional F-35Is and a similar number of F-15X strike fighters.

In August 2019, Israel issued a P&A request to the U.S. Navy’s V-22 program office, following a decision by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that there is an operational need for 12-14 V-22s to transport special forces elements “very fast over long distances.” With Israel’s CH-53Ds grounded following an accident in November, attention has also been focused on finding a replacement for the type. Israel has already evaluated the Sikorsky CH-53K and the Boeing CH-47F, and a decision is expected imminently. Both the V-22 and the new helicopter are expected to be assigned to support the IDF’s Depth Command, which is charged with the long-range insertion of special forces troops and with carrying out missions beyond Israel’s borders.

Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since 1945, receiving $142.3 billion in bilateral assistance. Under a new 10-year memorandum of understanding signed in 2016, the U.S. has pledged to provide $38 billion in military aid. Annual Foreign Military Funding grants to Israel represent about 18 percent of the total Israel defense budget.