The Jerusalem Post and a closed group of military reporters on Tuesday visited a Boeing KC-46 midair refueling aircraft and participated in a briefing within the aircraft with US pilot Capt. Cody Nelson.
The KC-46 is critical to Israel because it would play a major role in a potential future attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Without the KC-46, the IAF could have significant challenges in striking the Islamic Republic because it is beyond the range of Israeli aircraft to both fly to Iran and back without midair refueling. (There are other potentially less optimal solutions to the issue).
Nelson, who has flown missions all over the world, said the KC-46 was “like a mobile gas tank” that carries 207,000 pounds of fuel and can refuel a wide variety of aircraft, including the F-35, F-16, F-15 and F-22, thereby covering Israel’s various combat aircraft.
Advantages of the KC-46
If properly coordinated to allocate a certain amount of fuel, each KC-46 could refuel around a dozen aircraft, he said.
The KC-46 can fly 16 hours straight and up to 24 hours if it receives midair refueling from another aircraft, Nelson said.
Moreover, its advanced avionics, compared with other similar aircraft, and its transparent glass cockpit provides pilots with a significantly improved visual outlook, he added.
The KC-46 does not refuel drones.
Besides the main reason that Israel wants the KC-46 with regard to Iran, the aircraft also has other potential uses.
The large aircraft can transport around 110 troops and can also be used to handle 22 different medical rescue situations, Nelson said.
The KC-46 is outfitted with a kitchen, oven, bathroom, and temperature controls that allow it to better regulate the temperature levels, he said.
Initially, four KC-46 aircraft were due to be delivered to Israel by 2026. At some point, that timeframe changed to 2025, but Israel has still been campaigning, as yet unsuccessfully, to move it up.
The initial agreement between the US and Israel could also provide for another four KC-46 to be sent to the IAF at some later date.