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(photo credit: IDF)
With Iran determined to obtain nuclear power, the Israeli Air Force has recently expressed interest in procuring a new squadron of F-15I fighter jets from Boeing with enhanced long-range capabilities, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In March, Brig.-Gen. Amir Eshel, deputy IAF commander, visited Boeing headquarters in St. Louis for talks about the possible procurement. Officials on both sides said the talks were far from the negotiating level but were an initial sign of interest by Israel in purchasing a new F-15 squadron.
Israel began receiving the F-15 in the 1970s and in 1998 received 25 F-15Is specially crafted by Boeing to meet Israeli needs at a price of $84 million per aircraft.
Israel, sources close to the talks said, has expressed interest in the F-15I to fill a gap that might be created due to possible delays in production of the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The JSF, set to have stealth capabilities, is supposed to serve as the major aviation platform for all branches of US military and for many military forces around the world, including Israel, while replacing the F-15 and F-16 fighters.
According to defense industry sources, now would be a good time for Israel to order the F-15I squadron from Boeing since the company is currently in the midst of assembling the F-15K for South Korea. "Since the assembly line is already working Boeing could facilitate the order quicker than usual," one source said.
At the moment, Boeing is expected to get back to the IAF with proposals of how the manufacturer can turn the F-15 into a long-range aircraft. Some of the ideas being proposed include modifications to the aircraft's structure as well as larger fuel tanks.
Two weeks ago, the Defense Ministry denied reports of a rift growing between Israel and the US over the IAF's insistence to be allowed to upgrade the JSF with its own technological warfare systems, as it has done with the F-15, the F-16 and other fighter jets it has purchased in the past. The United States, according to reports, rejected Israel's request, at least partly because the Israeli systems are considered the best in the world and provide stiff competition to US companies, the officials said.
MoD Dir.-Gen. Ya'acov Toren rejected the reports, which claimed that Israel was considering canceling its participation in the multi-country development of the jet. "Israel is part of the program," he said. "We are holding continuous work meetings about the jet and things are proceeding in a positive direction."
Another Boeing product the IAF has expressed interest in is the V-22 'Osprey' for its search and rescue teams and possibly for special ground forces. According to industry sources, Israel has begun asking "basic questions" about the new aircraft's capabilities.
Jointly developed by Boeing and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., the V-22 has twin tilt-rotor technology that allows it to take off and land like a helicopter but after rotating its rotors to a horizontal position to fly as fast as a conventional aircraft.
The procurement however of V-22s does at the moment seem far off, officials admitted, due to the recent cuts to the defense budget. Last week the government approved an NIS 510 million cut to the budget, which Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz warned could turn the IDF into a mediocre military.