Israel Nearing Major Aircraft Buy

An Israeli Air Force F-15 departs on a mission during the Blue Flag exercise at Uvda Air Force Base, Israel, November 26, 2013.  Blue Flag was a combined aerial warfare exercise to improve operational capability, combat effectiveness, understanding and cooperation between the U.S., Israel, Greece and Italy, and was held November 24-28. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lee Osberry/Released)

The Israeli Air Force is nearing a multi-billion-dollar order for American-made aircraft.

On April 28, 2019, IsraelDefense magazine reported on the current status of Israel’s pending acquisition of U.S.-made aircraft.  The Israeli Air Force has been known to be considering a potential deal for new fighter jets, transport helicopters, and tanker aircraft, and is looking to make a purchase from either Lockheed Martin or Boeing.

Previous media reporting has indicated that the total deal for the aircraft could be worth $11 billion.  Decisions on the aircraft could be completed as soon as mid-2019.

While Israel already has an order for 50 F-35s, and is approved for dozens more, the Air Force has been considering whether to add further F-35s to its service.  Israel has been taking delivery of the F-35 since late 2016 and presently has 14 in-country.  Another six should arrive before the end of the year, including four next month, IsraelDefense reported.

The military confirmed last year that the jets had begun involvement in combat operations.  Given the proliferation of advanced air-defense systems in the region, the F-35’s stealth features are appealing to the Israeli Air Force, which has often conducted missions in hostile airspace.

Nevertheless, Israel is said to be very interested in returning to Boeing for an updated version of the F-15, in the F-15IA configuration.  The country last made a major buy of F-15s in the 1990s and the Air Force is keen to keep the fighter jet in service.  Last year, Ynet News reported that an F-15 buy “has already been approved by the government,” with aircraft expected to begin arriving in 2023.  The Defense Ministry later denied the Ynet report; nevertheless, the military is said to favor a new purchase of F-15s.

In regard to the transport helicopters – which IsraelDefense noted is “[t]he most pressing decision” – the Air Force is considering Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K and Boeing’s CH-47, which will replace older CH-53s currently in service.  Both the CH-53K and CH-47 have undergone testing with Israeli military personnel.

Without offering details as to which supplier might be preferred, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement about the helicopter buy, “The IDF is currently engaged in a staff work effort in anticipation of the acquisition of the helicopters, which is currently in the process of being approved.”

IsraelDefense reported that some Israeli officials are leaning toward the Boeing bid, but the report added that the CH-53K offers several features that would be especially ideal for the Air Force: suitability in mountainous terrain, greater carrying capacity, and familiarity, given that the Air Force presently uses the older CH-53.

The Air Force is also progressing on a decision on the in-air refueling tanker, which will replace its Boeing 707s that are 40-50 years old.  According to IsraelDefense, the Air Force has been authorized to issue a Letter of Request for two of Boeing’s aircraft, the KC-46, which may well have beaten out the bid by Lockheed Martin.  Lockheed Martin, in partnership with Airbus, offered the Multi-Role Tanker Transport, based on Airbus’ A330.  AviationWeek similarly reported earlier in the month that the Israeli Defense Ministry was slated to send a formal request for two KC-46s “in a matter of days.”

About Derek Bisaccio

Military markets analyst, covering Eurasia, Middle East, and Africa.

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