Israel's future air fleet: Not like buying toys at Toys R’ Us

The F-15IA’s assets closely match most missions carried out by the IAF, such as dealing with enemy missile launch sites or terrorist targets on Israel’s northern or southern borders.

An IAF Yasur helicopter, often used in search-and-rescue missions (photo credit: OREN ROZEN / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
An IAF Yasur helicopter, often used in search-and-rescue missions
It was an accident bound to happen: The engine of a 50-year-old Yas’ur transport helicopter caught fire, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing before the aircraft would be completely destroyed by the flames.
It took under a minute, 47 seconds to be exact, for the pilot to land the burning helicopter. By luck, the passengers and crew survived.
With an arms race in the Middle East, both by state and non-state actors, Israel needs to maintain its qualitative military edge and modernize its essential squadrons of fighter jets along with refueler aircraft and heavy-lift transport helicopters.
First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yas’ur helicopters are the air force’s primary helicopter, used regularly to transport soldiers and equipment. They have also taken part in a wide variety of missions, including secret operations as well as search and rescue missions like the extraction of the Israeli special operations forces from a botched commando raid in the Gazan city of Khan Yunis in 2018.
While the aging helicopters, including their engines, have been upgraded with 20 new electronic systems and missile defense, the IAF will still need to replace them by 2025, when they all will be over 50 years old.
The IAF plans to buy some 20 new heavy-lift helicopters to replace the current Yas’ur squadron at the Tel Nof Air Force Base. The two options in the running are Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion, the same maker of the Yas’ur, and Boeing’s Ch-47F Chinook helicopter.
The CH-53K King Stallion is operated by a crew of five – two pilots and a combat crew of three gunners – and is fitted with self-defense weapons and ballistic protection. It is powered by three engines, giving it a cruising speed of 261 kph and a range of 852 km. With a maximum carrying weight of 16,300 kg., the CH-53K offers three times the carrying power of its predecessor.
Designed to ensure reliability, low maintenance and enhanced survivability, it is fitted with digital fly-by-wire avionics with fully integrated flight and navigation displays and has a mechanical diagnostic system that notifies maintenance crews when a part needs to be replaced.
Boeing’s twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter Chinook has a full digital management system in the glass cockpit and has increased survivability capabilities such as radar and missile warning systems. While used mainly for troop transport (able to carry between 35 and 75 soldiers), artillery placement and battlefield resupply, it can be configured in 20 different ways.
With over 950 Chinooks flown by 20 defense forces around the world, it is an advanced and versatile multi-role and multi-mission helicopter with a cruising speed of 291 kph (maximum speed of 302 kph) and a standard mission range of 370.4 km. (400 nautical miles) and almost double that range for the extended configuration.
In addition to the need to procure new heavy-lift helicopters, with most of Israel’s fighter aircraft having been procured up to 30 years ago, the IAF must in tandem modernize its squadrons of aging fighter jets.
Israel has already received 20 F-35I “Adir” stealth fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin and is expected to receive a total of 50 to make two full squadrons by 2024.
While it is considered one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets and has advantages such as intelligence gathering, the stealth aircraft is limited in the weapons it is able to carry, as they have to be stored in internal munition boxes in order to maintain a low radar signature.
The F-15IA’s assets closely match most missions carried out by the IAF, such as dealing with enemy missile launch sites or terrorist targets on Israel’s northern or southern borders.
Its wings have been designed to be able to use two additional outboard stations to carry a payload of some 13,380 kilos, such as 12 air-to-air as well as 15 air-to-ground or air-to-maritime strike weapons which are able to engage multiple targets simultaneously. With advanced sensors and displays with high reliability, fewer aircraft would also be required to accomplish most missions.
THE PROCUREMENT of new platforms is a matter of great importance for IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, who believes that a force mix of F-35I Adirs along with a squadron of F-15IAs would allow Israel to carry out a number of complex operations, including any possible confrontation with Iran, far from its borders.
And if a confrontation breaks out far from Israel’s borders, the IAF will need a refueler for its jets. Many of the current refueler aircraft which are required for long-range missions, the Re’em (Boeing 707) tankers, are nearing the age of 60, and due to their age, Israel has been forced to find replacement parts by dismantling older planes bought from countries such as Brazil or online.
While the IAF is said to be considering buying used Boeing 767 commercial aircraft and converting them for airborne refueling of combat planes, it is also considering Boeing’s KC-46 tanker, which has a range of 11,830 km. and the capacity to transfer nearly 94,000 kg. of fuel to over 64 different types of aircraft.
In addition, the IAF is also leaning toward purchasing the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft which would allow for special operations.
A former senior IAF officer who was personally involved in the decision to procure the F-35 stealth fighter jet told the Magazine that while the V-22 cannot carry as many soldiers as helicopters, their speed allows for Israel to extend its operational envelope.
The military, which recently formulated its next multi-year plan, needs a budget in order to move forward and make decisions, he continued. And while there is a budget for new helicopters and fighter jets from the 2018 foreign military financing memorandum of understanding signed under the Obama administration, there needs to be a government in order to approve any decision made by the military.
“It’s not like buying toys at Toys R’ Us,” he said.“The process to procure new platforms takes a long time. The process could have started a year or two ago, without connection to the fact that we don’t have a government. If the government is formed in the summer of 2020, then the decision for the multi-year plan will only be approved at the end of 2020 – and that’s a problem.”
The upshot? Israel needs to form a government as soon as possible to enable the military to create a proper budget. If not, more accidents like the one with the Yas’ur are bound to happen again.