In light of the recent developments in the Iranian nuclear deal, the Obama administration has removed restrictions to sell the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, an aerial refueling and military transport aircraft, to Israel.
One of the most important muscles in the long-reaching arms of the IAF (Israeli Air Force) is their aerial refueling fleet, which provides a vital opportunity for the Israelis to reach out a greater distance or to simply keep their aircraft up in the sky for longer periods of time.
The Israeli approach to defense requires a long reach, the ability to strike from a great distance. The Israelis look to eliminate perceived threats before they have a chance to mature, for example, the infamous strike of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, or during Operation Wooden Leg in 1985, in which Israeli F-15s relied on heavily modified Boeing 707 aircraft to provide aerial refueling over the Mediterranean Sea, extending their range to 2,000 kilometers and allowing them to strike a PLO headquarters in Tunisia.
The opportunity to purchase these new aerial-refueling aircraft is a welcome one: The IAF still uses the Boeing 707 “Oryx” as their aerial-refueling platform. Production on the 707 ended in the ’70s, while the production of the military variants ended sometime in the ’90s. Yes, that’s how old our Oryxs are. They probably lack many of the optical/electronics that most modern airplanes have, and are probably a bitch to maintain. It’s also known in the IAF that one of the Israeli Oryxs in current use was taken from the Egyptians. Yes, it’s that old.
It’s likely that the Obama administration approved the exportation of the Pegasus to the IAF now as a means to placate the country following the controversial Iran nuclear deal, thinking the likelihood of Israel attempting to strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is at an all-time low as well. The administration may also recognize the importance of the IAF’s role in the Middle East, and believes future challenges will require the Israelis to have extended range and presence in the air, putting the IAF in a position in which aerial refueling will be used more often.
The IAF is expected to approve the deal by the end of 2016, and will receive two of its first KC-46s sometime in mid-2019. The price of each tanker is estimated at around 188M dollars, and that is before the Israelis add their famous modifications. The Obama administration has also stated that they will make their prices more “flexible” to ensure that the IDF will be able to renew its aging fleet, which will obviously be expensive to maintain.
We live in times in which war has no borders or uniforms. The battlefield has become more akin to an operating table, and every action requires a precise, surgical approach. For precision like that, we need to have an ongoing presence in the air, quick to react to trouble, capable of pinpointing and confirming targets in great detail. But that requires fuel. The new KC-46 is the answer to that need, and offers much of what the current fleet is lacking: low maintenance costs, the ability to fly in severe weather conditions, and the potential to fuel three aircraft at once.