Israel Air Force asks to swap four KC-46 tanker aircraft instead of two

Defense Ministry sources tell ‘Post’ that senior IAF officers have requested that the supply of aircraft fuel tankers be sped up.

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

The Israeli Air Force has asked the US Air Force to advance the acquisition of four out of eight tankers that are required for long-range missions, with two of them asked to be delivered immediately.

The US State Department approved the possible sale of up to eight KC-46 tanker aircraft and related equipment to Israel for an estimated cost of $2.4 billion last March, marking the first time that Washington has allowed Jerusalem to buy new tankers.

Israel was set to receive two of the Boeing-made planes by late 2023, and during former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last visit to Washington, he raised the issue that two of the eight tankers be supplied in the next year.

But now, according to Defense Ministry sources, senior IAF officers have requested the supply be sped up and that four of the KC-46 tankers be supplied in the next two to three years.

Though the agreement has not yet been signed despite the IAF having selected the KC-46 as the fleet’s future tankers, sources in the defense ministry have explained that the negotiation is still ongoing as there are “many details relating to the order that have yet to be completed before being signed.”

The Jerusalem Post has learned that one of the reasons for the delay in signing the contract was that though the IAF had initially requested that two of the tankers earmarked for the US Air Force be swapped, they are now trying to have four tankers swapped instead of two.

Defense Ministry officials have confirmed that they are hoping to get the final details and sign the contract soon.

According to sources, the call was made after Israel’s aging tanker fleet was grounded last year.

The KC-46 tankers, which will replace Israel’s Ram (Boeing 707) tanker aircraft that are required for long-range missions and nearing the age of 60.

Israel’s fleet of Ram 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.

GIVING THE thumbs up to the  Re’em Boeing 707 tanker aircraft.  (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)GIVING THE thumbs up to the Re’em Boeing 707 tanker aircraft. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

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

With a range of 11,830 km., with the capacity to unload some 207,000 lbs. of fuel, the KC-46 can refuel over 64 different types of aircraft.

All fuel tanks in the KC-46-which are purposely built for combat close to the battlefield-are fully inserted and are configured with ballistic armor. The plane also has IR countermeasures, RF warnings, threat avoidance systems and NVIS lighting (Night Vision Imaging System) allowing the plane to land in complete darkness giving the massive plane full covert capabilities.

Israel is also able to add in indigenous electric warfare countermeasure systems.

With a need to keep ahead of increased threats in the Middle East, the IAF is set to place orders on several new aircraft to upgrade its aging squadrons, including fighter jets and transport helicopters.

In November, Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel warned that continued postponement of the deal undermines Israel’s security. He blamed the lack of a budget as being a major hurdle blocking its advancement.

The IDF “urgently” needs new air platforms, said the former IAF commander, referring to Israel’s fleet of Re’em Boeing 707 tanker aircraft, the Ya’sur heavy-lift helicopters that are close to 50-years-old and fighter jets.

“There is no country in the world that flies platforms that are this old. To fly a refueler or a helicopter with more than 50 soldiers inside is not trivial. These are non-trivial risk levels. If God forbid something happens, what would we say to ourselves? Our operational and safety needs are paramount. There is no other way to present it.”