Israel signs deal with US for 12 CH-53K helicopters, two KC-46 refuelers

With a range of 11,830 km and the capacity to carry 207,000 pounds of fuel, the KC-46 can refuel over 64 different types of aircraft and allow dozens of jets to remain airborne for up to 12 hours

The KC-46 refueler (photo credit: BOEING)
The KC-46 refueler
(photo credit: BOEING)

The Defense Ministry has signed an agreement with the US government to acquire 12 Lockheed Martin CH-53K helicopters and two additional Boeing KC-46 refueling aircraft.

The Defense Department’s procurement delegation signed the letters of acceptance with Israel on Thursday evening to replace the Israel Air Force’s CH-53 Yasur heavy-lift helicopters and Ra’am (Boeing 707) tanker aircraft that are required for long-range missions.

“These procurement agreements are significant milestones in the IDF’s force buildup processes,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “We continue to strengthen our capabilities and to change and adapt our air force to face future challenges both near and far.”

The deal regarding the helicopters is estimated to be worth $2 billion, with the first expected to arrive in 2026 and an option to procure an additional six helicopters. The agreement was signed with the US Navy by the head of the Defense Ministry mission to the US, Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Michel Ben Baruch.

Israel announced last February that it would purchase one CH-53K squadron over Boeing’s CH-47 to replace its fleet of Yasur helicopters at Tel Nof Air Base.

A CH-53K helicopter (credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)A CH-53K helicopter (credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN)

First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yasur is the air force’s primary transport helicopter for soldiers and equipment and has taken part in a wide variety of missions, including secret operations as well as search and rescue.

Another agreement, worth approximately $1.1b., was signed for the procurement of an additional two Boeing KC-46 refueling aircraft, to add to the two already purchased.

The US State Department approved the possible sale of up to eight KC-46 tanker aircraft and related equipment to Israel last March, marking the first time that America has allowed Jerusalem to buy new tankers. Two weeks ago, Washington denied Jerusalem’s request to expedite the delivery of two KC-46 refueling jets.

The platform will be adapted to meet the IAF’s operational requirements and Israeli systems will be integrated into the aircraft.

Israel’s fleet of Ra’am planes, the number of which remains confidential, are former civilian aircraft adapted for military uses such as aerial refueling for fighter jets, as well as its fleet of transport aircraft.

The new KC-46 tankers can refuel jets with 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute by its fly-by-wire 55-foot refueling boom. It can also install wing air refueling pods, allowing three jets to be refueled at once within three to four minutes.

With a range of 11,830 km. and the capacity to unload some 207,000 pounds of fuel, the KC-46 can refuel over 64 different types of aircraft and would allow dozens of jets to remain airborne for up to 12 hours at a range of 11,000 km.

“The procurement of these platforms is part of a large-scale program undertaken by the Defense Ministry together with the IDF over the last year and a half, with the aim of strengthening the IDF’s capabilities, force buildup and preparedness to face existing and future threats,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The procurement plans include the purchase of a new fleet of F35 aircraft, refueling aircraft, CH-53K helicopters, advanced air munition, air defense systems, and new marine and land platforms as well as cyber systems.”