Israel buys refueling tankers that will help it attack Iran's nuclear sites

Boeing's multi-mission KC-46 refueling tankers will replace the Israeli Air Force's aging fleet of refueling aircraft, needed for any future action against Iran.

Boeing's KC-46 aerial refueling tanker (photo credit: BOEING)
Boeing's KC-46 aerial refueling tanker
(photo credit: BOEING)

In seeking to further its reach as a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States looks more likely to be signed, the Israel Air Force has signed a contract with Boeing to purchase four multi-mission KC-46 refueling tankers in a deal valued at $927.5 million.

The four new planes that will begin to arrive in 2025 are set to replace the IAF’s aging fleet of Re’em Boeing 707 tankers, aircraft that have been flying in various guises for well over half a century.

The deal includes tanker services support, maintenance and repairs, logistics and spares. The planes, which are based on the veteran Boeing 767 widebody airliner, will be built by the company in Seattle.

“This contract further strengthens the US-Israel alliance and continues the decades-long relationship between Boeing and the Israeli Air Force,” said Ido Nehushtan, president of Boeing Israel and a past commander of the IAF.

“The KC-46A will benefit Israel’s efforts to ensure national security and regional stability,” he said.

Israeli Air Force pilots flew alongside their United States counterparts (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)Israeli Air Force pilots flew alongside their United States counterparts (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

Israel is interested in the tankers

The US government approved the sale of eight KC-46 tankers in March 2020, and in February last year, Israel signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for two aircraft, amending it to include two more in December 2021.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he has backed the “important” procurement project for the past two years in coordination with the Ministries of Finance and Justice.

“The refueling aircraft that are being purchased, along with the procurement of an F-35 squadron, helicopters, submarines and advanced munitions and will enable the IDF to meet its security challenges both near and far. This is yet another testament to the powerful alliance and strategic ties between the defense establishments and governments of Israel and the United States,” Gantz said.

The IAF had for several years wanted to buy the tankers but delays in signing the contract caused concern among the military, especially as Israel has continually warned of the dangers in the nuclear deal that Washington may sign with Tehran.

“The KC-46A will benefit Israel’s efforts to ensure national security and regional stability.”

Ido Nehushtan, president of Boeing Israel

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi has made clear that he views a rekindling of the 2015 nuclear deal as dangerous and has said openly that he has asked for fresh operational plans to be drawn up to strike Iran and stop its nuclear program, if necessary.

KC-46 tankers replacing Israel's Re'em tanker

The IAF’s fleet of Re’em planes that were converted from civilian airliners decades ago – the number of which remains classified – have served as refuelers and as transport aircraft for many years.

The much newer KC-46 has a range of 11,830 km. and can deliver almost 5,500 liters of fuel (1,200 gallons) per minute through its fly-by-wire 55-foot (almost 17-meter-long) boom. It can also attach external fuel pods on the wings to allow three jets to be refueled simultaneously, all within three to four minutes.

The refueler’s fuel tanks are reinforced with ballistic armor to withstand incoming fire. The plane also carries IR countermeasures, RF warnings, threat avoidance systems, and NVIS (Night Vision Imaging System) lighting that allow it to land in complete darkness, affording it very broad covert capabilities. Israel will also be able to add its own electric warfare countermeasure systems to the aircraft.