Israel Retaliation: F-15EX Jets Loaded With 29,500 Pounds Of Weapons May Be IAF’s No.1 Choice To Hit Iran

OPED By Gp Cpt TP Srivastava

Nearly 75 years ago, when the Jewish nation Israel was born, Turkey and Iran were the first two nations to recognize it as an independent nation-state.

Until the Shah’s regime, Iran-Israel relations were cordial. But Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover of Iran in 1979 changed everything. Iran believed that Israel had no right to exist. Hostility between Iran and Israel continued to grow. The USA’s open support of Israel made matters worse.

Israel’s strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus a few days ago could not have gone unpunished by Iran. A late-night strike on 14th April 2024 on Israeli targets by Iranian drones and missiles was overdue. The extent of damage caused to life and property is not clearly known, but reports say 99% of drones & missiles were intercepted, and no major damage happened.

Biden administration has been categorical in stating that the US will protect Israel. However, Washington has clearly advised Netanyahu that a retaliatory strike by Israel will/may result in an escalation of the conflict.

The Israeli Air Force has long been the tip of the spear that can strike targets far from home to help ensure the safety of the State of Israel.

Operation Opera in 1981 resulted in the destruction of the Osirak Iraqi nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad. Eight F-16s escorted by four F-15 accomplished the mission. In September 2007, the IAF successfully bombed an alleged Syrian nuclear reactor as part of Operation Orchard.

The IAF has not announced any plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program, but it has recently held large-scale drills simulating such attacks. In one of the drills, Israeli F-35 Adir aircraft practiced breaching Iranian Air Defences, and in another, IAF pilots took part in long-range combat missions.

Israel’s Options

In spite of US advice to the contrary, Israel might be actively considering a retaliatory strike on an Iranian target of strategic value. Ever since Iran made substantial progress in developing its nuclear capability, Israel has always considered a strike on major nuclear facilities at Fordow and Natanz, the only strategic value target.

The destruction of the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear facilities by the Israeli Air Force clearly enunciated Israel’s resolve to ensure that nations that do not recognize Israel as a nation-state will not be allowed to develop nukes.

Is Iran in the same basket? However, a successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities will not be as simple as it was in the case of Iraq and Syria due to two reasons;

  • Firstly, Iranian nuclear facilities are in dispersed locations safely embedded into hills.
  • Secondly, even a direct flight from Israel to Iran’s nuclear sites will require a mid-air refueling/refueling halt.

Mission Capability: Israel

Weapon Platforms

The resurrection of the F-15 Eagle as a front-line fighter of the USAF has not made the headlines it deserved. A new ‘AVTAR’ of F-15 called F-15EX is already under production with advanced avionics, ECM/ECCM suite, and powerful AESA radar.

However, the most astonishing change in the F-15EX is supposed to be its enhanced weapon-carrying capability. According to Boeing, the F-15 EX will be capable of carrying a whopping 29,500 pounds of weapons. If the claim is true, it will be the highest weapon load carried by any fighter anywhere in the world.

The modified F-15 variant will have enormous strategic significance. Israel has already acquired F-15EX and F-35A. The acquisition of F-15EX enabled Israel to consider and plan its third strike on a nuclear reactor.

Israeli Air Force has modified every weapon platform imported from the US and operates it with a different suffix. For instance, an F-15 Strike Eagle of USAF suitably modified by Israel is called F-15I Ra’am (Thunder).

They consider it a strategic aircraft. However, even this aircraft cannot carry a 30,000-pound GBU-57, the heaviest weapon with precision guidance.

The F-15EX is supposed to be capable of taking off with a maximum take-off weight of about 80,000 pounds. The F-15’s empty weight is about 32,000 pounds; thus, about 48,000 pounds is available for fuel and weapons.

Excluding 30,000 pounds of GBU-57, a F-15 can carry 18,000 pounds of fuel with the option of mid-air refueling at a suitable juncture of flight. Indeed, mounting a GBU-57 on the center line of the F-15EX will be a monumental and possibly impossible task. But IAF is known to have pulled off the ‘impossible’ before on numerous occasions.

F-15 EX

Will The US Support Israel?

The US has provided the platform as well as the weapon, which can effectively engage Iran’s nuclear facilities embedded in deep mountains. However, the US has advised Israel not to escalate the conflict.

Will Israel heed US advice?

GBU-57, also called Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), was developed in early 2000 and is the most powerful bunker-busting weapon currently in use. The USAF also has a new deep penetration weapon called Global Precision Attack Weapon (GPAW) being developed for the future bomber of the USAF, the B-21, which is a few years away from being operational.

GPAW is a product of what USAF calls the Next Generation Penetrator (NGP). NGP is expected to be much smaller, both in size and weight (one-third of GBU-57), and is likely to be mounted on the F-35.

Israel may have another option of dropping GBU-57 if made available. An alternate platform might be a modified C-130 aircraft. One might recall that in 2017, President Trump authorized a strike on ISIS Tunnels located in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan.

The mission was flown by a modified C-130 called MC-130, which carried a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weighing about 22,000 pounds.

Does it leave any doubt about Israel’s future course of action?

  • Gp Cpt TP Srivastava (Retd) is an ex-NDA who flew MiG-21 and 29. He is a qualified flying instructor. He commanded the MiG-21 squadron. He is a directing staff at DSSC Wellington and chief instructor at the College of Air Warfare. VIEWS PERSONAL OF THE AUTHOR
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