IAF mulling purchase of 'stealthy' F-15s

After Washington rejects installation of Israeli systems in F-35, Defense Ministry director-general travels to US for talks on possible alternative.

iaf plane f-15i 29888idf (photo credit: IDF)
iaf plane f-15i 29888idf
(photo credit: IDF)
Facing soaring costs and American opposition to the integration of Israeli systems into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Israel Air Force is reviewing specifications of a new and advanced model of the F-15 Eagle, which is claimed to have enhanced stealth capabilities. In March, Boeing unveiled the F-15 Silent Eagle (F-15SE), a new configuration of the F-15 which has undergone improvements and modifications that, according to media reports, give the plane a stealth capability that is effective in evading radars on enemy aircraft, but not ground-based radar systems. Improvements in stealth include coatings and treatments to the aircraft as well as a new design for the conformal fuel tanks that allows them to carry weapons rather than fuel. Israel operates several squadrons of F-15s, including one of 25 F-15Is, the aircraft with the longest range in the IAF. The Silent Eagle will be capable of carrying internally air-to-air missiles, as well as air-to-ground weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). Defense Ministry Director-General Pinchas Buhris was scheduled to travel to the United States on Monday for talks at the Pentagon about the F-35. Buhris will also seek to receive assurances from the new administration that the US will continue to fund the development of the Arrow 3 missile defense system. Israel's interest in the new F-15SE stems from a number of considerations, but primarily from expected delays in the delivery of the JSF as well as the Pentagon's opposition to Israel's request to install Israeli-made systems in the aircraft, which is under development by Lockheed Martin. While Israel decided last year to purchase the F-35, if political disagreements over the integration of systems continued, officials said it was possible interest in the newly-modified F-15SE would increase. The Jerusalem Post first reported on the US opposition in February. In addition, the price of the F-35 is expected to pass the $100 million mark and would only arrive in Israel - if a deal is signed in the coming months - in 2014. According to media reports, the new F-15SE will cost less and could arrive in Israel as early as 2011. There is also an option to upgrade existing F-15s to the Silent Eagle model at a much lower cost. The US Air National Guard is also considering upgrading existing aircraft instead of purchasing new fifth-generation planes like the JSF and the F-22.