IDF mulls major fighter jet, helicopter deals

F-15 Photo: Boeing

Israel is likely to buy a squadron of Boeing's upgraded F-15s and must choose between Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin's CH-53 K helicopters or Boeing's CH-47 Chinook.  

The IDF is preparing for two major deals with the US, including the procurement of aircraft designed to renew its stock of warplanes and transportation helicopters. It has been decided to purchase two air force squadrons, following the establishment of a squadron of F-35 Adir fighters, the world's most advanced stealth aircraft. The IDF received its first F-35s in December.

Most of the money for the procurement will come from $3.33 billion US aid money allocated for the F-35 projects and missile inventory. The exact budget for buying the planes will become clear only after the budget is divided in the framework of the Gideon multi-year plan and the beginning of implementation of the new aid agreement in 2018.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman yesterday met with US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Gen (res.) James Mattis. He is expected to meet with other administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and it cannot be ruled out that the subject of air force procurement deals will be raised at these meetings.

For a long time, the air force has wanted to replace its F-15s, manufactured by Boeing, with a better version of the aircraft equipped with an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system. This aircraft does not have stealth capabilities, but it can carry larger payloads, has advanced attack capabilities, and is operated by a two-man crew, which is an advantage in complex missions. The twin-engine warplane can continue operating even when one of the engines is disabled.

The new F-15s cost $100 million a plane. They are more advanced than the F-15s purchased from the US by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in recent years. Israel insisted that the US refrain from selling the new version to Qatar in order to maintain the Israeli air force's superiority in the Middle East, but former President Barack Obama disagreed, saying that Qatar felt threatened by Iran, and approved the sale of 72 of the aircraft just before he left office.

Since it first flew 40 years ago, the F-15 has undergone upgrades and facelifts. It is classified as a "strategic bomber."

Former senior air force officers explained that the assessment of the new F-15s is based on the belief that the IDF cannot rely on only one type of plane. Commenting on the F-15's lack of stealth capability, the air force veterans said, "Most of today's armaments are fired at the target from a range of tens of miles."

During Moshe Ya'alon's term as Minister of Defense, the defense establishment consensus was that new F-15s were needed. Over the past year, the air force considered the procurement of 75 F-15s, but postponed the decision.

After cabinet approval is obtained for replacing two battle squadrons, a decision will be made between replacing them with F-35s or F-15s. The cabinet decision authorizing procurement of the last 17 F-35s purchased stated that the next procurement program presented by the air force would also present specifications for the F-15, not just the F-35.

The Ministry of Defense also asked the US Department of Defense for information about transportation helicopters. The information is due to arrive by this summer, including particulars about the aircraft's performance, availability, production line, and the possibility of installing Israeli systems in them. The information will be processed according to the IDF's needs in 2018, and the first price bid will then be made.

The Yassour helicopter will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2022, and the filing of the information request has hastened the search for a future replacement. The US Marine Corps recently purchased 200 CH-53 K helicopters from Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin. These helicopters, which are currently in development, will be classed as operational next year.

Another transportation helicopter being considered by the IDF is the CH-47 Chinook, Boeing's veteran transportation helicopter. The difference in price between Lockheed Martin's helicopter and that of Boeing is estimated at one third, and the final cost depends on the demand for it from foreign armies.

At the same time, it appears that the fate of the deals will be settled mainly by the attitude of the US establishment, headed by President Donald Trump's White House and the Pentagon, which will seek to influence the volume and price of the deals.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 8, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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F-15 Photo: Boeing
F-15 Photo: Boeing
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