Exclusive: Long-range destinations like Iran would necessitate risky practice.
By YAAKOV KATZ
In preparation for long-range missions and possible conflict with Iran, the Israel Air Force has expanded its training programs to include rapid refueling operations on runways.It’s a dangerous practice since the aircraft’s engines are running while the fuel nozzle is still connected to the jets. The training is for both pilots and ground crews and it is being done to enable the aircraft to carry as much fuel as possible for long-range missions.Fuel nozzles are traditionally disconnected from fighter aircraft while they are still parked in hangers and before they are rolled out to the runway, where they usually wait for several minutes before takeoff and while burning fuel. The new protocol includes keeping fuel trucks on the runway, having ground personnel reattach the nozzle and fuel the aircraft to the maximum fullness, disconnecting seconds before takeoff.“We understand that many of our threats and challenges require us to develop a long-range capability,” one senior IAF officer explained. “Part of our preparation includes knowing how to fuel our aircraft so they can have as much fuel as possible.”Last week, the IAF inaugurated a new unmanned aerial vehicle called the Heron TP. With the same wingspan as a Boeing 737, the Heron TP is Israel’s largest and most sophisticated drone, weighing 4,650 kg. and capable of flying for 36 hours while carrying a payload of hundreds of kilograms. The Heron will increase the IAF’s long-range capabilities, mainly in intelligence and surveillance, and according to foreign reports could also have missile strike capabilities.Meanwhile on Saturday, The New York Times reported that Iran recently moved almost its entire stockpile of low-enriched uranium to an above-ground facility. According to a recent report by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, close to two tons of low-enriched nuclear uranium was moved all at once from storage deep underground to a facility where it can be enriched to a 20-percent level, putting the material just a jump away from the 80-to-90% that is required for nuclear weapons.Iran’s action, which according to the report has confused Western officials, exposes the material to an air strike or even to ground-based sabotage.The Times quoted one official as saying the move was tantamount to painting a bull’s-eye on the stockpile.The paper raised several possible explanations, primarily that Iran might have run out of suitable storage containers for the radioactive material and was forced to move it all at once. It would, however, not require the entire two tons to enrich uranium for the aging reactor in Teheran where it makes medical isotopes.Other explanations raised by the paper include the possibility that theIslamic Republic actually wants Israel to attack, since that wouldlikely unite the Iranian people behind the regime and silence theopposition Green Movement and the demonstrations protesting against theresults of June’s presidential election.Teheran, the Timessaid, might be using the move as leverage against the West and as partof a threat to further enrich its entire stockpile if the internationalcommunity did not reduce its pressure on the Islamic Republic.
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