Israeli Air Force to Get KC-46 Tankers & Third Squadron of F-35s

In a tweet on 22 February, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced that the government had approved agreements for the purchase of two new KC-46 aerial tankers and enough new F-35s to form a third squadron of the type in the Israeli Air Force (IAF).

The tweet also said that the Israeli government had given approval for the purchase of advanced munitions and heavy lift helicopters to replace the IAFs fleet of aging CH-53 Yas’urs that have been in service since the 1960s. The choice seems to be between Sikorsky’s CH-53K and Boeing’s H-47

A Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for the KC-46s was signed over the weekend between the Israelis and Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer. The IAF is very keen to get hold of new tankers to replace their old fleet of converted Boeing 707s that it currently operates. The IAF has a requirement for a total of eight aircraft.

The KC-46 has had a troubled life. First ordered in 2011, the United States Air Force (USAF) did not receive its first tanker until 2019. These have experienced problems as they have been brought into service, but recent orders from the USAF have boosted the numbers to be produced and (hopefully) indicate the aircraft is now fit for service.

The F-35 purchase is a much simpler proposition. The IAF have fifty F-35Is already in service. The F-35I is a model built exclusively for the IAF and these have seen considerable use in attacking targets linked to Iranian interests in Syria already, proving to be extremely effective and – so it seems – largely immune to the Syrian air defenses.

Though Israel has made peace recently with many of its former Arab enemies, the Israelis are adamant in maintaining their Qualitative Military Edge (QME) in the Middle East region over any potential adversary. To this end, the acquisition of the new equipment is considered of high importance.