In March, the US State Department approved the sale of KC-46 state-of-the-art refueling planes to Israel but apparently the Israeli military has a pressing need for long-distance airstrikes, leading them, to request a hurry-up date of delivery.
The State Department approved the sale of eight Boeing KC-46 Pegasus military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion, which was first delivered to the US Air Force last year. The new planes will be purchased as part of a $3 billion US defense aid package. Israel currently uses Boeing 707s, which have been modified by Israel Aerospace Industries, for aerial refueling. The sale can still be blocked in Congress. The delivery of the airplanes was scheduled to take place in four years.
Channel 12 News reported Wednesday that Israel has requested that the aircraft be delivered within two years. For this to happen, the US Air Force will need to give up two production slots for the 179 KC-46 airplanes being built for the American defense department. Sources at the Boeing Corporation estimate that the first refueling tanker will be delivered to Israel in 2022 or 2023.
The announcement has led to conjecture that the urgency for in-flight refueling comes as a result of concern of an Iranian reprisal to a wave of explosions targeting military and nuclear sites in Iran. One of the planes that can be serviced by the KC-46 is the F-35 stealth fighter. The Israeli Air Force currently has 16 of the stealth fighters, named Adir. Israel became the first country in the world to use the F-35 in combat during recent clashes with Iran in Syria. Israel
Following threats against Israel by senior Iranian officials last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East.” The F-35 stealth jet is not believed to have an effective range to reach Iran unassisted, but it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling. Delivery of the KC-46 would allow in-flight refueling of the F-35 Adir, adding a significant impact to Netanyahu’s threat.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Israel’s having its own KC-46s would help back up the US military’s own, “potentially freeing US assets for use elsewhere during times of war.”
Israel is considering other aviation purchases from the US as essential to defense, including the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing tri-rotor aircraft. The V-22 is used to transport special units “very fast for long distances.”
In a related development, the US government this week agreed to sell Israel 990 million liters of special JP-8 jet fuel worth about $3 billion.